You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless of course you’re Cris Johnson, who can see up to two minutes into his own future, and therefore gets as many chances as he wants to make a first impression.
So Nicolas Cage is great. I’ve always liked him. Julianne Moore is great. And I’ve liked Phillip K. Dick’s rather dark, philosophical stories ever since I was a kid rummaging through my dad’s sci-fi collection looking for something to read. Therefore, Next, starring Cage and Moore and based on The Golden Man absolutely has to be a really great movie. Right?
*sigh* No, afraid not. For one thing, the film is only very, very loosely based on the story. The original Cris Johnson isn’t exactly cut out to be a leading man, for starters, and while movieCris is, unsurprisingly, a nice, honest guy trying hard to be an ordinary person, storyCris is — not any of those things. I’m not sure why it is that so many Phillip K. Dick stories are adapted for the screen, and yet the movies never end up with anything more than a passing resemblance to the orignal, top-notch source material, but there we are.
But in the land of celluloid, Cris is a small-time magician/mentalist in Las Vegas — you know, the kind of act where they guess where people are from and make watches disappear, and which can only thrive in Vegas. He supplements his income (the cost of living there probably is awful) with a little dishonest gambling, though he makes sure only to cheat the house. He’s a nice guy, remember. But the casinos are on to him, and Julianne Moore, at the head of a truly scary FBI team, is on to him, and after Peter Falk shows up for two scenes and then vanishes, poor Cris hardly gets a moment’s peace.
He has, in fact, just enough time when he’s not running for his life to find and woo his dream girl. (This is where fifteen chances to make a first impression really come in handy.) He knows that Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel — and I imagine there are lots of men who dearly wish they could see her in their futures) will appear in a certain diner at exactly 8:10, but not the day or even whether it’s morning or evening — because somehow, when this woman is involved, he can see well beyond his usual two-minute mark. This is pretty contrived, but I was willing to go along with it for the sake of the plot.
|Cris waits dramatically for the bus that’s due to run him over in a minute and a half.|
Soon, however, I was forced to give up on the plot, which was suddenly full of FBI squads, a stolen nuclear bomb, and enough CGI effects to keep every studio in Hollywood busy for weeks. Visually, it’s really an amazing film — the stunts are also contrived, but this actually makes sense, since Cris is in the middle of things manipulating what’s going to happen next. Mercifully, they keep the number of instant replays involved in Cris’ power down to a minimum, since those would probably have made any non-precognitive human dizzy. Unfortunately, the filmmakers do stoop to using such replays for their shock value a little too often. Still, the overall effect is marvelous, and I quickly learned it was best not to think of the plot and just to sit back and feast your eyes.
Julianne Moore, though, is capable of being a very scary lady. She was certainly an excellent fanatic in Children of Men, and here she actually steps it up a notch. I don’t know her exact title, but she’s important. A few words into her cell, and teams are shutting down all communications within a two mile radius. A wave of her hand, and suddenly every lounger in sight is an agent hurrying over to her for instructions. It makes me wonder how many of those road workers that you see standing around are actually waiting for a signal from Julianne.
Though no one else really seems to belive her when she says what Cris can do, apparently even her boss is too afraid to say no to her, because she gets her way. With his (reluctant) help, she knows she can find that bomb before it goes off. Now, the whole bomb thing is still troublesome. It was stolen from Russia, we know that, but the question of who stole it is never explored. Or even mentioned. In fact, they don’t even hint at why it was stolen. Apparently, for some reason, a small group of heavily armed and well-financed French-speaking people decided to steal a nuclear bomb and plant it in southern Califorrnia. They hint at a mean and ruthless boss somewhere, but don’t expect to learn anything about him, either. The only point is that the boss knows about Cris and wants him dead so the grand plan (if there is one) won’t be ruined, and the only point of that is so Julianne and her team have someone to shoot at and Cris has some bullets to dodge. (Precognitives can dodge very well, unurprisingly, but he must have had storyCris’ super-speed as well as his future sight, because he dodges.)
I predict I’m going to give this one just two idols. And I’m right! I might have edged up close to three if I hadn’t stayed for the last ten minutes or so. The ending was — well, I’m still torn on the best adjective. I hate to go as far as “awful”, but I think I may have to. It was definitely not good, and the general mood among my fellow moviegoers after seeing it seemed much the same as mine — namely, that if any of us had the same powers as Cris, we would’ve gone to see The Invisible instead.