Next exercise in predictability
By Lady Liberty
* 1/2 out of ****
Let's face it. Most of us are just biding our time until May 4 and the opening of the third film in the Spider-Man franchise. Still, with its science fiction tone and a cast boasting some name actors, I was happy enough to settle for seeing Next this weekend. Although I can't say that I wasted my time, I also can't pretend that I couldn't have waited 'til next weekend to see another movie.
Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a magician working in Las Vegas. Known by the stage name of Frank Cadillac, he performs such magic show standards as appearing to predict the future. What makes the Frank Cadillac show different from the many others you've seen is the fact that there are no tricks involved. Cris can really see a couple of minutes into the future.
FBI Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) thinks there's more to the Frank Cadillac act than meets the eye. A certain incident captured on a casino camera lends enough credibility to the idea that she pushes her superiors to let her talk to Cris in connection with a possible terror attack. Cris himself is concentrating on something else entirely. He's bound and determined to meet a beautiful woman he believes he's seen in his future. Eventually, Cris does manage to meet the woman in a local coffee shop. Liz (Jessica Biel) is, however, considerably less than interested in meeting Cris.
Even as Cris is trying to spend a little more time with Liz, the FBI has an added sense of urgency in tracking him down. The agents know that it's likely a nuclear device has been smuggled into the country, and they begin to fear that it could be hidden almost anywhere and detonated at almost any time. With other avenues of investigation resulting in little or no new information, Callie is convinced that Cris is their last, best hope to find the bomb before millions of Americans are killed.
Nicolas Cage has been better in other films (I'm particularly fond of National Treasure), but he's okay here. At the same time, Julianne Moore all but phones in her performance (though in fairness she's got some truly absurd lines to speak), while Jessica Biel is saddled with a character that's unbelievably sweet and impossibly naive. A brief appearance by Peter Falk is nice, and Thomas Kretschmann is just fine as the apparent leader of the terrorists, though he's not given a lot to work with. And that brings me to the script...
Next is yet another movie based on a short story by the brilliant Phillip K. Dick. Unfortunately, the writers took a few too many liberties. Much of Next is trite and predictable, not least of which is the ending. Far worse than that is the fact that the characters are so terribly undeveloped. While I thought it was terrific that nobody tried to explain why Cris can do what he can do — such explanations typically strain credulity at best — we also have no idea why Liz is in Las Vegas, how Callie knows anything about Cris in the first place, and why on earth an improbably polyglot terrorist group is upset with the United States or even how it got its disparate group together to begin with.
The action sequences are good and the editing even better. Some special effects are lacking somewhat, but in general terms the chase scenes and gun battles are well choreographed and interesting. But the predictability of the story and the obvious questions that arise take something away from those aspects of the movie that actually are pretty good.
Next is a diverting hour and a half , but that's really the best I can say for it. You could do worse, but you could do so very much better that I'm not inclined to encourage you to bother.
POLITICAL NOTES: Cris is skeptical of the government and what it will do if it gets its hands on him, and he's probably right to be so. At one point, Agent Ferris makes it abundantly clear to Cris that his rights are subservient to the larger cause. She also tells Liz — who happens to have a government job — that she'd better cooperate seeing as how they're "on the same side." Given the current climate in the "war on terror," all of these things make an uncomfortable amount of sense, and feeling for the protagonist of the movie gives us a good idea that this kind of thing is wrong no matter the motives behind it.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Next is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violent action and some language." In truth, I really didn't notice any bad language at all. The action is mostly of the usual car chase and gun battle variety (though there is one particularly nasty scene involving explosives). None of it is graphic. I don't see that Next would be much of a problem for the average 12 year-old, though I can't promise that he'll actually like the movie all that much.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.