Thursday, May 10, 2007

'NEXT': Strictly a Cage Vehicle

NEXT (sci-fi thriller)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel and Peter Falk
Director: Lee Tamahori
Time: 96 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Cage and Jessica Biel in 'Next'
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? "One thing about the future is that if you can see it, you will invariably change it. It keeps changing just because you can see it." This is the lament of Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage), a Las Vegas showroom magician who has the ability to see a few minutes into the future.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? This ‘gift’ is both a blessing and a curse for him. A blessing because it allows him to make a decent living perform magic tricks and winning ‘a few bucks’ at the gambling tables; and a curse because even as a child, he has been ‘probed’ and examined by the government regarding his abilities. Vegas is the perfect place for him to ‘hide in plain sight’ from the authorities.
Not for long, though. The FBI, led by Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), is on his tail, seeking his help to track down a gang of terrorists who has smuggled a nuclear bomb into the US. On a personal level, Cris needs to meet up with Liz (Jessica Biel), a woman he has never met, but has been having visions of her future. He wants to determine how and why she is connected with his visions…

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: With such conceits about meeting one’s destiny – and the "Spider-Man" tag line of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ – we get a tender romantic interlude (involving Cris and Liz at a motel near the Grand Canyon) as well as a pulsating cat-and-mouse game between Cris and Callie. The first offers a welcome respite before the main action takes over, while the latter works like a watered-down version of television’s "24". Indeed, we are never sure if what we see on the screen is Cris’s imagination or if it really happens. After a while, we just don’t care anymore.

"Next" is adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story, ‘The Golden Man’, and directed by Lee Tamahori of "Die Another Day" fame. However, like most ‘time-travel’ stories, this see-into-the-future plot is too mind-boggling to contemplate, not to mention the mental hernia we would suffer just to mull over Cris’s options and plot possibilities.

One way to enjoy, or at least absorb, "Next" is to treat it purely as a Nicolas Cage vehicle. Although this is not Cage’s outstanding or most expressive effort, he manages to evoke screen chemistry with both Biel and Moore. Biel is appealing and enigmatic as Cage’s love interest and salvation, while Moore brings intensity to her role as a female Jack Bauer out to save the world. Certain scenes suggest that her Callie is being driven by some personal demons but this is not resolved or clarified.

THE LOWDOWN: The movie ends rather abruptly, leaving most viewers dissatisfied. Well, we are supposed to mull over the proceedings and be ‘impressed’ by Dick’s ingenuity, but in reality, many would have wished that they had Cris Johnson’s gift and saved 96 minutes of their time.


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