A raggedy B-movie tarted up with A-list actors like Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore, “Next” showcases the best of what B-movies have to offer and little else. Featuring a bare bones script that relies completely on the strength of its premise and not its characters, “Next” also has the courtesy to not overstay its welcome.
Following such poorly executed and forgettable flops as the Ben Affleck-led “Paycheck” and the little-seen “Imposter” starring Gary Sinise, “Next” is also very loosley based on a Philip K. Dick book. (More successful adaptations of the venerated sci-fi master’s work have included “Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and “Blade Runner”)
About the only thing that screenwriters Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum kept from Dick’s short story 1954 “The Golden Man” is that Cris Johnson (Cage) has the unique ability to see two minutes into his direct future. From there, they’ve concocted a plot that is more “24” than it is science fiction. Julianne Moore essentially plays the Keifer Sutherland role—FBI agent Callie Ferris—who knows of Cris’ powers and wants to use them to stop an impending nuclear attack. It is a bit worrisome that he is the FBI’s strongest lead in a terrorist plot to detonate a nucler bomb on American soil.
Cris has learned to fly under the radar by eeking out a living as a cheesy Las Vegas magician and winning small jackpots around town. A crackerjack opening sequence where he avoids capture in a casino by correctly predicting the security force’s every move sets just the right kind of playful tone. “Next” is more of a lighthearted game of “what if” than it is a serious drama about impending doom.
As much as he’s learned to use it to his advantage, Cris is also plagued by this unexplained superpower that he’s had since birth. If the government ever found out about him, he’d be their slave for life, even though his psychic ability is limited. A mysterious young woman he’s seen in a vision could soon change that.
Somehow, Liz (Jessica Biel) enables him to see longer into the future. The joke that never gets old in “Next” (partially because its only 90 minutes long) is that Cris explores every possible future outcome before making a decision and then picking the best choice. After seeing six or seven different outcomes, he chooses the path that lands him in Liz’s car and later her bed, stretching disbelief even farther. Like “Ghost Rider,” Cage is again romancing a woman almost twenty years his junior. She also places an inoordinate amount of trust in him at a very early juncture.
These are annoying details that don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of this movie. Here are some more. Moore is barking orders and recycled cop dialogue and that’s about it. She’s definitely phoning it in. Peter Falk in on hand for one inexplicable scene that may be from a different movie, where he it seems that he lives in a garage with Cage(?). Furthermore, no details about Liz’s psychic connection to Cris are ever revealed.
Due to the nature of Cris’ powers, the movie has the ability to go back on whatever it has depicted, for up to two minutes. This is like a get-out-of-jail-free card where director Lee Tamahori* puts the hero in some inescapable dilemma—including death—and then merely starts over at an earlier point because we were seeing only what Cris was thinking. It’s cheating; a very easy way to build and resolve suspense. The thing is, it actually works.
The plot is simple but effective, with each sequence constantly one-upping the scene before it. “Next” explores this idea in greater depth as the film progresses, to its utmost degree, finally culminating in a terrific visual where we see Cris’s body split up fifteen different ways at the same time, exploring all possible outcomes. Add on a surprise ending that I should have seen coming, and this movie is one small, guilty pleasure.
* Tamahori could have used one of these cards back in January 2006, when he was arrested for allegedly soliciting a cop while dressed as a woman. The director, 55, approached an undercover police officer who was in his car, entered the vehicle and offered to perform a sex act for money.