NextReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/27/07 00:00:00
It’s early on in “Next,” and FBI agent Julianne Moore is briefing her task force. For a good ten, maybe fifteen minutes now, we’ve watched as her crack team of federal agents has tried to capture Nicolas Cage, who they want because he is psychic, although he can only see two minutes into the future, a talent he uses to steal cars and outfox casino security. Stay with me, people. Anyway, she’s giving him the lowdown on Nicolas Cage, when suddenly, her boss erupts. “Dammit, Julianne Moore!” he bellows. “I don’t care about Nicolas Cage being psychic! There’s a Russian nuke that’s been stolen, and we have to find it before Los Angeles blows up!”I’m paraphrasing, of course. The actual dialogue is much, much, much, much dumber.
My point is this: here is a movie so knee-slappingly, eye-rollingly, body-part-movingly inept that the best way it can come up with to introduce the stolen nuke into the story is to interrupt a scene and just have somebody shout it. It’s a scene that dares the audience not to stand up, turn around, look up at the projection booth, and yell in unison, “What?”
“Next” is adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Golden Man,” in that the golden mutant of the story is now a Las Vegas magician, the male government agent is now Julianne Moore, and the post-apocalyptic future is now the Grand Canyon. Or something. Either way, it’s the most idiotic retooling of a classic sci-fi author’s work since “A Sound of Thunder.” (Oh, if only “Next” could also star Sir Ben Kingsley!)
This version of the tale is directed by Lee Tamahori, whose last films were “Along Came a Spider,” “Die Another Day,” and “XXX: State of the Union.” This one’s worse. Nicolas Cage is Cris Johnson, a mopey sort who can view every possible outcome of his own future, up to two minutes away. He has used this talent to become a sometimes-criminal, sometimes-Vegas showman with the stage name “Frank Cadillac.” It’s never made clear if Cris sees these outcomes in a flash, or if he has to live them out in real time. We live them out, resulting in gimmicky plot point reneges (“oh, it was just a vision of the future, and not a real happening!”), except for the times where Cris just seems to automatically know the future, except still for the times where he seems to experience it play out while we watch him grimace and moan about the things he’s seeing.
Of course, the real question is: if your movie character is sometimes named “Frank Cadillac,” why would you even consider using the dull-as-dirt “Cris Johnson” instead? I mean, who gives a fig about Cris Johnson? Now, Frank Cadillac, I’d watch him all day.
Back to the story. The feds want Cris/Frank/Nic Cage because they hope he can lead them to the stolen nuke - by making him watch TV, where maybe he’ll see a future newscast of the city exploding. Of course, you’d think that by the time Nicolas Cage sees the bomb go off, there’s no way the feds would only have two minutes to race across L.A. and defuse it. Then again, this is the same movie that asks us to believe Jessica Biel would find Nicolas Cage sexy, so there you go.
Jessica Biel, you see, is the woman Nicolas Cage has been seeing in distant visions. He can see his future only in tiny chunks, but with her, somehow, he can see far, far ahead. She does not know this, yet cheerfully offers him a ride across Arizona after he figures out which pick-up line will work best. Along the way, she falls madly in love with him, because he is nice to the kids she teaches and surprises her with creepy magic act parlor tricks.
The problem here is that Jessica Biel delivers a performance so awful that, well, only Jessica Biel could deliver it. This is a mess of mangled line readings and campy emotions, capped off by a sappy oh-I-don’t-know-who-you-are-but-I-love-you! monologue that earned derisive hoots from the preview audience.
And remember, kids, preview audiences generally like everything. But oh, you should have heard them when the movie revealed its big finale, which was greeted with groans, guffaws, and a few boos, as if to say, “This is how you’re going to end your movie? Like this? Seriously?” If Nicolas Cage were there, he’d have gotten himself punched in the face.
Which just might have been deserved, because he’s pretty terrible, too, managing to out-overact his infamous turn in last year’s “Wicker Man” remake. Moore, meanwhile, delivers an unexpectedly lousy turn, just to complete the set, although I suppose even Oscar-caliber actors would have trouble with such stilted dialogue, ridiculous plot characters, and moronic plot turns. (Did I mention the French terrorists who want to kill Cris before they blow up L.A.?) “Next” is a movie that asks us to watch with a straight face as Julianne Moore snaps, “I believe that the urgency of this situation compels the use of any and all resources to obtain Cris Johnson.”
I should probably also mention the fake driving scenes, whose outlandishly phony rear projection - on par with state of the art 1930s special effects - will send a wave of giggles up and down the aisles. Or the scene where we are told a dead woman’s throat was slashed, only to then be shown a picture of the corpse, neck still intact. Or the part where Nicolas Cage outruns the crappiest CGI train ever. Or…Well, you get the idea. “Next” is a howler of a movie, the most entertainingly awful flick in quite some time. Thank you, Lee Tamahori. You’ve done it again.
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