You really have to feel sorry for Philip K. Dick. Not just because he's dead. And not because, like so many creative visionaries, he died broke. No, the rawest deal of all for the posthumously appreciated sci-fi scribe is the treatment his work has received at the hands of Hollywood.
Dick's novels and short stories pack more innovative ideas on a given page than you'll find in the lifetime output of any dozen industry hacks. This originality has made his writings an irresistible resource for movie makers. That's made his descendants rich. Unfortunately, it hasn't made for a whole lot of quality cinema. With a couple of exceptions - Blade Runner and, to a certain degree, A Scanner Darkly - most of the pictures based on Dick's work have incorporated the source material's mind-bending premise and chucked the rest, replacing his storyline and sensibility with standard-issue action-thriller mechanics.
Total Recall, Screamers, Imposter, Minority Report and Paycheck are good examples, but I doubt there'll soon be a better one than Next. Lee (Die Another Day) Tamahori directs this adaptation of "The Golden Man," a short story with virtually no connection to this motion picture beyond a single component of its premise: The central character has the power to see two minutes into his future.
Nicolas Cage stars as Cris Johnson, an individual who, as we learn in the film's opening sequence, seeks nothing more from life than to stay under the radar. He's found the perfect cover for a fellow with his special gift - small-time Vegas magician. Cage is careful not to attract attention when playing blackjack, for example: Though he could win indefinitely, he limits his take to modest stacks. When he's not performing or bilking casinos, he spends his time - particularly the time around 8 in the morning - at a coffee shop, incongruously sipping a martini and waiting for the love of his life, Jessica Biel, to walk in, as he saw her do in a vision way more than two minutes earlier.
Here's where things get wacky. The guy's spent his entire life blending in, lying low, doing nothing that will get him noticed - yet suddenly half the planet has him in its crosshairs. The FBI wants his help in preventing a terrorist attack in L.A., both casino security and the Las Vegas Police Department are on his trail, and even the Eurotrash terrorists are gunning for him. Naturally, the script offers no explanation for his abruptly heightened profile.
We're also never told why Cage isn't eager to help save the 8 million lives the Bureau (in the form of a one-note Julianne Moore) tells him are at risk. When he finally does bump into Biel, he hitches a ride out of town with her, and the movie settles into chase mode for the next hour or so.
Eventually Moore catches up with Cage and persuades him to use his power for good. This results in her strapping him into a special Clockwork Orange chair with little doodads that hold his eyes open so he can watch TV news and see where the tragedy will unfold when it makes headlines in the future. Which raises a couple of additional questions: Why does Moore need to force his eyes open if he's volunteering to watch television? And how can Cage all of a sudden see more than two minutes into the future?
It hardly matters. The movie's makers have run so low on ideas by the final act that they fall back on two of the medium's currently most abused clichés. First there's the prolonged shoot-out on a harbor city's docks - since Cage can see the path bullets will take before they've been fired, he's able to sidestep them in Matrix-reminiscent slo-mo. Then there's the Big Surprise Twist. I'll be honest. It did surprise me. As cheesy and riddled with logic problems as Next is, I never suspected its creators would stoop as low as they do in the final moment of this film.
And for that I blame myself. This is a Nicolas Cage movie - he's even credited as a producer. After recent anything-for-a-buck rip-offs such as Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man and National Treasure, I suppose I should have seen it coming.
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