Produced by Nicholas Cage, Todd Garner, Norman Golightly, Graham King and Arne Schmidt
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum
Based on “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick
One question folks like to ask me is this golden oldie: “Have you ever seen a movie so bad that you walked out on it?” And I’ve always answered: “No.” And don’t think that I stay to watch a movie all the way through out of some principal that I should stay to the end of a movie so that if I trash it later on I can do it fairly. I stay because I’ve paid my money and I’m not getting up until I’ve seen what I’ve paid for. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of movies I’ve wished I’d walked out on. I could give you a list in two minutes flat of 25 movies I wished I’d walked out on. And NEXT is near the top of that list. NEXT is so appallingly bad that I don’t know who I feel sorrier for: the people who see it or the people who were contractually obligated to work on this movie. At least I hope they were contractually obligated.
Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage) is a third rate Las Vegas magician performing under the name Frank Cadillac. He’s not flashy enough to play the big rooms. He mainly works the small lounges where the losers nurse their drinks while trying to figure out how to tell their wives they’ve lost the kid’s college fund shooting craps. Cris deliberately stays under the radar because he does have a gift that is akin to real magic: he can see two minutes into his own future and tell what’s going to happen to him before it happens. He uses this talent to rake in some extra cash at the blackjack tables until one shitty night when he finds himself preventing a robbery that hasn’t happened yet and winds up on the run from not only the Las Vegas Police Department but also FBI Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore)
Turns out that Agent Ferris knows all about the special power Cris has, apparently from studying casino videotapes and somehow she’s convinced herself that Cris can help her find and stop a band of terrorists who have a nuclear device somewhere in Los Angeles that they’re going to denote in five days. Yeah, you read that right. Terrorists have an active nuclear device on American soil and the FBI is chasing after a Las Vegas magician instead of trying to find the bomb. Using his ability, Cris manages to stay out of the clutches of the cops and the feds as he desperately needs to find Liz (Jessica Biel) a young woman who keeps appearing in his visions of the future. But these visions don’t take place two minutes in the future. They apparently take place days and even weeks ahead. Cris wants to find her to find out why. This leads to a scene that is actually kinda amusing and clever: using his ability to see two minutes ahead Cris can actually ‘try out’ different approaches of meeting Liz until he finds one that works.
Now while Cris and Liz are falling in love and Agent Farris is tearing her hair out trying to catch up to Cris, the head terrorist (Thomas Kretschmann) finds out that the FBI is trying to catch Cris because they think he can help them. In a stunning leap of logic that dazzled me beyond belief, Terrorist Number One pulls all of his people from their main objective of blowing up Los Angeles and sends them to kill Cris. His reasoning? Well, if the FBI thinks Cris can catch him then Cris has got to be killed at all costs. You think the guy would do a background check or something before committing all of his people to such an action but NEXT never lets anything resembling common sense or logic get in the way of the next CGI action sequence.
Supposedly NEXT is based on a ‘novel story’ called “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick. I’ve never read the story but I’d be willing to bet you my autographed copy of Clive Barker’s ‘Weaveworld’ that it bears no relation to the movie at all. In fact, NEXT feels an awful lot like a television pilot on steroids. It plays as if the Johnny Smith character from ‘The Dead Zone’ was the hero of ‘24’ instead of Jack Bauer. To be honest, I think the character of Cris Johnson/Frank Cadillac to be interesting enough to sustain a television series and the ways he uses his power in the movie shows he’s a guy with brains. It’s a given that he can actually dodge bullets since he knows where a sniper is going to shoot him before the sniper pulls the trigger. And he can evade and escape his pursuers since he literally knows where they’re going to be before they do. He can outfight just about anybody since he knows from which direction their punches are coming. But there’s a goofy chase sequence where he orchestrates an escape that has a kind of lunatic Wile E. Coyote kind of deranged genius in the way one thing crashes over and flips something else over and causes something else to roll downhill. There’s also a nifty scene where Cris ‘searches’ an entire ship by himself simply by running through his mind every possible route he could take through the ship and foreseeing how the multiple routes will end.
And even though “Ghost Rider” is the better movie (although not by much) I liked Nicholas Cage’s performance in NEXT much better. Not once in “Ghost Rider” did I buy him as a daredevil motorcycle stunt rider but here, he inhabited the skin of this character very well. Julianne Moore walks through her performance as if she just wants to get this over with, get her check and call Paul Thomas Anderson to beg him to have a role for her in his next movie. After seeing Jessica Biel in “The Illusionist” and being highly impressed with her in that movie I was wondering if she was truly developing into a gifted actress or if it was just the director and the material of “The Illusionist” that made her look better than she was. After watching her in NEXT I would say that yes, her performance in “The Illusionist” was a fluke. And Peter Falk is in the movie for all of five minutes. If you sneeze you’ll miss him. The director Lee Tamahori knows how to direct action as anybody who’s seen “Die Another Day” and “XXX: State Of The Union” can attest but the action sequences in NEXT all were familiar to me, as if I’d seen them before. Especially in the last 30 minutes that play like outtakes from ‘24’.
And the ending of NEXT…I sat there in my seat for maybe a minute not believing that they actually had ended the movie the way it did. I’m sure that the writers sat around congratulating themselves on how clever they were. I don’t think they were clever at all. I think they wasted my time and the time of everybody at the showing I saw it with. I remember vividly seeing this in the theater while on vacation with my wife in Florida. I looked at some of the faces of the people leaving the theater with me and they were not happy faces at all. That ending, combined with the silly, sloppy premise of the story and an overwhelming number of plot holes as big as craters on The Moon made for a horrendously disappointing movie.