a critiQal film review Next (2007)

Plot: When a terrorist group threatens to detonate a nuclear device in Los Angeles, government agent Callie (Moore) has to convince the one man who can stop it: a Las Vegas magician named Cris (Cage), who has the ability to see 2 minutes into the future.

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Nicolas Cage is a busy man. It seems every time you turn around, he’s popping up in another movie. Already this year we’ve had Ghost Rider (2007). His next movie? Next, based on the story “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick. While Ghost Rider (2007) wasn’t that good of a movie, I still wanted to see Next. After all, Nic tends to be good most of the time…and Philip K. Dick stories tend to make good translations to film (Minority Report (2002), Blade Runner (1982), even A Scanner Darkly (2006) wasn’t half-bad). With those reasons, we rented Next.

While Nic’s Ghost Rider (2007) shtick wasn’t up to his usual par, he fine tunes his character a bit for Next. Ghost Rider (2007) showed a more confused and disoriented Nic Cage – something viewers aren’t used to. He’s usually got it together, and the viewer usually can guess he’s going to make it through the film okay, no matter what is thrown at him. With Ghost Rider (2007), that usual confidence is gone…and so is his connection to his audience.

With Next, he is anything but clueless, as his character is able to see 2 minutes into the future. But again, he’s not his typical action self. Instead, he has more of a haunted look, something that viewers may recognize slightly from his turn in City Of Angels. There, he was downright depressing, here he just has the aura of a man who has seen too much. That fits with his character, who has seen himself and others killed or hurt in his mind’s eye on multiple occasions. His character is best summed up in a conversation he has with Jessica Biel during the film. When she mentions that life should be full of surprises, he looks over at her sadly and declares, a bit wistfully, “that would be nice”.

The other characters do a decent job in Next – but nothing too exceptional. Jessica Biel’s performance stutters, going from decent (when she’s in danger) to bland (until she gets into trouble). The bad guys, among them Thomas Kretschmann, are even worse, not varying even the tiniest bit from the formulaic bad guys they are. They’re faces aren’t even that important, much less their words (proven when they speak in another language – and the viewer doesn’t care in the least that they can’t understand it)…it’s only the threat they pose that makes them worth being on-screen.

Julianne Moore, on the other hand, lies, cajoles and rants to get her way through Next as an FBI agent – no matter what the cost to her morality. It’s a bit disgusting the turns she takes to make things go her way. And, while she explains her actions away by falling behind the whole “national security” banner, she still makes the viewer feel a bit…unclean.

The plot of Next sounds interesting, and works well on film. Since the main character is able to see 2 minutes into the future, there are lots of plot tricks the filmmakers can fill the screen with. While some of the plot tricks get old (the main character dies more than once – and the viewer finds out it’s just him seeing into the future), some of them are interesting…and set up the film for some spectacular stunt sequences.

The special effects abound in Next, as the filmmakers try different ways of conveying Nic’s 2-minute “futuresight” ability. They start off simply enough, letting Nic duck and cover in a myriad of twists and turns as he makes his way to his destination. Those sequences are the most fun to watch, as the viewer is able to get more involved with those sequences, and watch the near-misses come and go in rapid succession.

The filmmakers also try to fool the viewers with a second type of effect – they lead the viewer to believe the moments are happening right now. The viewer gets into the sequence, watching the action…and then something shocking happens, and the viewer is brought back to the now. While this type of sequence is decent once or twice, it’s over-used in Next and does nothing more than irritate the viewer.

The third type, and the one they only use in one section of Next, shows Nic Cage doubling himself, with each double going down a different corridor. It’s interesting to see, and is good for use with searching large places. The viewer, however, may get a bit thrown off when he first doubles, as it really looks like there are two of him. If they had faded his doppelgangers a bit, it would have made a bit more sense to the audience. After all, most “mind” doubles in film usually look a bit like a ghost of the person, rather than a duplicate. This fading would have brought the idea home a bit better to the audience. Otherwise, it is a good effect.

While Next does leave the viewer hanging a bit, they should enjoy the ride up to that point. Nic Cage’s haunted eyes will keep the viewer tuned in, as will his budding relationship with Jessica Biel. And, when the action starts picking up, the viewer will stick around to see what other near-misses Cage is put through. However, being fooled more than once by the filmmakers can get annoying, so most probably won’t stick around for another viewing after they find out what’s waiting at the end of Next.

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