Next (United States, 2007)
Next represents Nicolas Cage's second superhero movie in the space of two months. However, where Ghost Rider was based on a comic book, Next takes its inspiration from a Philip K. Dick story. The result is not unlike what we have come to expect of many (although not all) Dick adaptations: maddeningly inconsistent. The first act of Next is brilliant, but the rest of the movie can't keep pace and the whole thing ends up collapsing under its own weight. The film fails to play by a consistent set of rules and, while it's possible to justify that endgame twist, that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Some viewers will feel cheated by what Next does, and it's hard to blame them.
Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) has an ability that makes him unique among men - he can see up to two minutes into his future. This gives him short term invulnerability and allows him to be extraordinarily effective in crime fighting situations. There's an anomaly to Cris' superpower, however - he can see more than two minutes ahead into the life of one other person: Liz (Jessica Biel), a young woman he has never met. Cris is on a quest to encounter her if only to determine why he's having visions of her future. Meanwhile, FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is tracking Cris. Having discovered his true nature, she needs his help. Pretty much quoting Spider-Man's Uncle Ben, she notes that with great power comes great responsibility. A terrorist in the Los Angeles area (Thomas Kretschmann) is about to detonate a nuclear bomb and the FBI believes Cris can help them prevent a disaster. (One keeps expecting Jack Bauer to show up.)
Next opens with a fascinating sequence of scenes in a casino. These show how Cris is able to use his ability to win some money, prevent a shooting, and evade a dragnet. It's compelling filmmaking from Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) and sets the bar high for the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the movie cannot stay at this lofty level for long. After Cris meets Liz and the two go on the run to the Grand Canyon, the script loses its punch. One source of frustration is the lazy way in which Cris' powers are handled. There's no consistency. At times, he seems both infallible and indestructible. On other occasions, he's neither. It's never explained why he can see far into Liz's future - this becomes a plot device without which the rest of the story cannot unfold.
This isn't the most expressive performance of Nicolas Cage's career. He seems to be going through the motions, almost as if he had moved to this production immediately after completing The Wicker Man and didn't elevate the level of his acting. Julianne Moore brings intensity to the part of Callie, although the character is incomplete. Callie is driven by personal demons, but we never find out what they are. There's a sense that a scene (or scenes) explaining this might not have made the final cut. Jessica Biel is appealing as the woman who offers Cris salvation through love but, as with Callie, the character is unfinished. Thomas Kretschmann is unimpressive as a generic 24-style terrorist.
Since 9/11, there has been an upsurge in movies about heroic figures foiling terrorist plots. Last year's Déjà Vu introduced a time travel element into the formula, but told a more coherent and tightly plotted story than Next. The plot contains a lot of unrealized potential; the character and his ability are interesting enough to warrant future exploration, but it's unlikely the film will generate a strong enough box office to result in a sequel, especially with a much bigger superhero film immediately around the corner. This isn't a bad movie; it's watchable but the direction in which the filmmakers choose to take it results in a vague sense of dissatisfaction.
Next (United States, 2007)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschmann
Screenplay: Gary Goldman and Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum, based on The Golden Man by Philip K. Dick
Cinematography: David Tattersall
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures