The tagline says, “If you can see the future, you can save it.” For that matter, if you don’t see “Next,” you can save 96 minutes. What starts out as a mildly diverting thriller blows itself to smithereens in the final reel — rather appropriately, given the nuclear bomb ticking away in the background. As a fugitive whose clairvoyant powers make him a target for both the U.S. government and some Eurotrash terrorists, Nicolas Cage should help boost audience turnout, suggesting a solid but not dazzling B.O. future for the pre-summer Paramount release.
Having recently blazed up the screen in “Ghost Rider,” Cage (who also produced “Next”) is once again in reluctant action-hero mode as Cris Johnson, a Las Vegas man whose ability to see two minutes into the future — and thereby alter it — turns out to be both a blessing and a curse.
Cris uses his talents to perform magic tricks and swindle the local casinos out of a few bucks, but the government wants him for matters of national security: Tough-as-nails FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is convinced he can help them track down a nuclear weapon that’s been smuggled into the country. Likewise, the French-accented terrorists commandeering the nuke (led by German thesp Thomas Kretschmann) are desperate to eliminate Cris, lest he foil their devious (not to mention weirdly apolitical) plot.
Exactly how the feds and the bombers become aware of Cris’ ESP is one of the script’s many instances of narrative expediency; ditto Cris’ perfectly timed meet-cute with Liz (Jessica Biel), a beautiful young woman who’s been haunting his visions. After using his powers to worm his way into her affections, Cris and Liz end up leaving Las Vegas and holing up in a motel near Flagstaff, Ariz., cleverly staying ahead of his pursuers but inevitably getting himself and his lover caught in the crossfire.
From the start, the film’s seeing-the-future conceit alerts the viewer that every scene might be booby-trapped — a mere “gotcha!” speculation about what might happen, making “Next” play like the cinematic equivalent of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel. Overused gimmick not only feels all too pleased with itself but, more damagingly, has the effect of draining all suspense from the picture: Since anything can happen, who cares what does?
Pic was adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, but while there’s an unmistakable whiff of “Minority Report”-style illogic to the proceedings (and one unmistakable visual reference to “A Clockwork Orange”), the script’s lack of ambiguity or moral inquiry, casual disregard for its own rules and soft-hued romantic interludes won’t be to many sci-fi fans’ liking. Stunning cheat of a climax, which will probably have auds hurling their wristwatches at the screen in disbelief, suggests the filmmakers were less inspired by Dick than by “Dallas.”
Still, helmer Lee Tamahori (“XXX: State of the Union,” “Die Another Day”) handles the action capably enough, staging all manner of complicated sequences with helicopters, hordes of faceless gunmen, and cars that are all too willing to be smashed and flipped over. Beat-the-clock, defuse-the-bomb showdown, set largely on the rooftops of Los Angeles, is highly redolent of TV’s “24,” minus the real-time element.
Wearing a high-browed haircut with a bit more ease than Tom Hanks did in “The Da Vinci Code” and philosophizing in monotone voiceover about the nature of fate, Cage delivers his usual laconic, low-intensity antihero, consistently maintaining the upper hand without firing so much as a single shot. Thesp’s lazy charm effectively counteracts the creepiness of Cris’ borderline-stalkerish approach toward the much younger Liz; he actually strikes more sparks with Moore’s brittle, humorless FBI agent, even if the latter spends most of the pic looking as if she could use a good night’s sleep.
Tech package is on the stripped-down and grungy side, despite some fairly obvious application of visual effects (with contributions from no less than seven f/x houses). Locations, sprawling from Sin City to the Grand Canyon, add some personality, while Mark Isham’s percussive score ably conveys the sense of time quickly passing.