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RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
• Creating the Best Next Thing featurette
• Visualizing the Next Move featurette
• The Next Grand Idea featurette
• Two Minutes in the Future With Jessica Biel featurette
Everybody wants a piece of Nicolas Cage because he can see into the future…which doesn’t really explain that whole Ghost Rider thing…
Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschmann.
It was there, in front of the Tuesday night crowd at the Laughlin Comfort Inn that Cage realized that maybe taking his Elvis obsession to the extreme by becoming an impersonator might not have been the best career move…
Small-time Vegas magician Cris “Frank Cadillac” Johnson (Cage) is a seeming hack, doing boilerplate and obvious magic tricks and mentalism in a small, sparsely attended nightclub act. But that’s just a cover for Johnson’s true ability to see into the future for a maximum distance of two minutes – but only events that affect him personally. Using this hidden ability, he’s able to win just enough at the casino tables to maintain his slacker lifestyle without drawing too much attention to himself. The only events that he can see further into the future beyond two minutes revolve around a woman, Liz Cooper (Biel), who’s literally the girl of his dreams. He attends the same diner everyday in the hope of meeting her. When he finally does, he’s already set off a chain of events that have both the FBI and terrorists looking for him. One agent in particular, Callie Ferris (Moore) is convinced that Johnson is the only hope they have for preventing a nuclear bomb from being detonated in LA, and she stops at nothing to find him and enlist his help.
Casino Security Chief: "My GOD! Is that Nicolas Cage? What’s he doing in Vegas?"
Security Guard: "I don’t know, sir! This is completely irregular…"
As a quick aside, the first bit of advice I can give regarding Next is not to watch it when you’re plastered; not if you hope to maintain any sort of awareness as to what’s actually going on in the film. Utilizing Johnson’s unique POV of current and future events, with frequent rewinds and flash forwards, Next is a movie where you need to keep fairly coherent in order to follow it successfully. But if not, then this movie at least makes for an entertaining watch through a nicely dense martini fog. Regarding the movie itself, upon a sober viewing, I’m torn. The movie vacillates from interesting segments of precognitive storytelling to downright ridiculous elements involving the terrorist plot.
In the sequences where Johnson is utilizing his precog abilities, the situations are fairly cool as he plays out possible future events and director Tamahori presents them in interesting and varied ways. In one instance in a casino, Johnson slinks his way past an army of casino security in order to make his escape from a robbery attempt which he helped foil and then caught the blame for. When Johnson meets Liz in the diner that he first saw her in, there are some humorous iterations where he tries to think of the best way to approach her, and later intercede when her ex-boyfriend is causing her problems. Then in another sequence, he’s deftly dodging a landslide created by Liz as a diversion by setting her truck rolling down a mountain at his request. Then in another, Johnson is able to split himself into multiple entities in his precog state in order to search a rig for Liz and the terrorists. He can also dodge bullets and take out up to five guys at once because he knows every move that his nemeses are going to make. That’s when the movie is working at its best.
"Cut! Print! Okay guys that’s lunch. Hey Nic, you coming?"
"Uh, you guys go ahead, I can’t quite stand up right now…"
As for the marquee players of the picture, first of all, I continue to be a Cage fan to this day. Few if any actors today can play disaffected, troubled or just downright odd characters better than he can. In Johnson, Cage is setting a low-key tone, as a guy just trying to get by and not seeing himself as cursed or blessed with his gift, but someone who is just resigned to being different. Julianne Moore is kind of on autopilot and her character seems to go through tonal shifts that make her inconsistent. One minute she’s an understanding, empathizer of Johnson’s, the next she’s a torturous bitch who couldn’t give two shits about his needs as she only seeks to use him to get the job done. Biel is likeable and, as always, extremely easy on the eyes. Kretschmann in the most generic bad guy with a German accent you’ll ever see, but it’s not his fault, he’s given next to nothing to work with here.
To this day, Cage still has trouble letting go of those Superman aspirations…
Where Next falls short, however, is in most of the rest of the film, particularly in establishing the terrorist plot and the terrorists themselves. Riddle me this Batman: how does a film succeed in setting up dramatic conflict when we know squat about the bad guys? Next seeks to do this by explaining almost nothing about who the terrorists are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. And if it weren’t for one brief scene involving a murdered girl, and an almost throwaway of a line by one of the minor characters explaing that apparently the girl was murdered in an apartment across from Agent Ferris’ office, we’d totally be at a loss for how the terrorists know about Johnson and the danger he presents to them. Another ludicrous afterthought of dialogue by the main terrorist, who isn’t identified, explaining that "that man" is nervous about Johnson highlights this deficiency in scripting probably better than anything. Imagine if you saw Die Hard without knowing jack shit about Hans, Karl, Marco, Theo, Tony or any other of the boys: they just show up with guns, grease Takagi, start drilling into the vault and nuke the building for no reason. That’s essentially what you get with Next.
Okay, so maybe my pick up technique could be a tad less direct…
Another problem with Next is with some of the special effects. While they’re good in some places, they’re bad in others. Shockingly bad. Mummy Returns Scorpion King kind of bad. For instance, when Cage is trying to make his getaway from the cops in a stolen silver Dodge Charger, he’s trying to beat a train and when he gets hit, the Charger turns into fiery tinfoil. Also, the subject of the government going to any lengths to acquire Johnson’s abilities, a key element of Phillip K. Dick’s short story I’m told, is only touched upon during the A Clockwork Orange-style interrogation scene between Johnson and Ferris and ultimately seems out of place with the rest of the film’s tone. Finally, the ending is the biggest ripoff, most blue-ball inducing twist since The Village. It deserves to be spoiled, it’s begging to be spoiled, but alas I shant.
Next could have been pretty good, and several parts of it are, but it’s got more on the con side of the scale than the pro and it ultimately tips the wrong way.
With the Britney Spears VMA performance on continuous loop, Johnson told them everything they ever wanted to know about the terrorists, the Kennedy Assassination, where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, what really killed the electric car, the real reason for going to Iraq, how OJ was in fact innocent, sexual fantasies he had about Rue McClanahan, that time he stole an issue of X-Men #121 when he was nine, that little indiscretion with a Jersey transvestite, his PIN #, MySpace password…
The transfer of the film is nice in widescreen and the sound is equally good in Dolby 5.1 Surround. There are four featurettes which total about 37 minutes: Creating the Best Next Thing, which is a standard behind-the-scenes; Visualizing the Next Move, which covers the special effects; The Next "Grand Idea", which covers the location shoot in the Grand Canyon on an Indian reservation thanks to a suggestion from Cage to shoot there; and Two Minutes in the Future With Jessica Biel where she riffs on what it would be like to be able to see two minutes into the future. I foresee that if that last feature had been called Two Minutes of Jessica Biel Naked, they would’ve quadrupled their sales of this disc. Anyway, noticeably absent from any contribution to the special features is director Lee Tamahori, who must’ve been busy cruising West Hollywood for some undercover cops at the time….