Dir: Lee Tamahori. US. 2007. 96mins.
A promising Philip K Dick premise gets spun out to middling effect in Next, a sort-of-sci-fi thriller with Nicolas Cage playing the reluctant hero and Lee Tamahori directing. The Initial Entertainment/Revolution Studios production may get lost in the summer crowd theatrically, but Cage's star power could help it get noticed later in ancillary markets.
Paramount releases the film wide in North America this weekend and may be hoping that Cage can drive another big opening after the successful February launch of Ghost Rider. Next, though, will be competing against several other recent thrillers and will only have a week to make its mark domestically before the arrival in cinemas of Spider-Man 3.
Initial has licensed rights to independents internationally and distributors in territories including the UK and France are releasing the film to coincide with the US launch (releases in other territories will follow later in the summer).
Opening on the heels of Ghost Rider could limit Next's potential and holding up over the early summer against potential blockbusters will be a real challenge.
A futuristic short story by Dick - whose work also, of course, inspired Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report - was the basis for the script by Gary Goldman (who worked on both Total Recall and Minority Report), Jonathan Hensleigh (Cage's The Rock and Gone In 60 Seconds) and Paul Bernbaum (Hollywoodland).
In the present-day movie setting Cage's Cris Johnson is a Las Vegas magician whose act hides the fact that he can actually see a few minutes into the future. Cris puts his pre-cognition gift mostly to selfish use, but FBI counter-terror agent Callie Ferris (Moore) wants him to help her thwart a planned terrorist attack on Los Angeles.
Cris only agrees to work with the feds when he realizes that Liz (Biel), the beautiful woman who haunts some of his future visions, will eventually be endangered by the terrorist plot.
The story plays out in three strands with varying degrees of effectiveness: the blossoming romance between Cris and Liz is quite touching; the FBI pursuit, first of Cris and then of the terrorists, is fairly standard action-thriller stuff; and the terrorist plot is a confusing mess.
The hero's precognition provides the story with a fairly original plot device (though it does bring the premise of John Woo's 2003 Dick adaptation Paycheck somewhat to mind), but it's a device that is used with diminishing returns.
Intriguing and spooky at first, Cris' ability to see into the future becomes conveniently more powerful as the narrative progresses. By the time the film reaches its bomb plot climax the device has become a special effects gimmick that serves only to add a touch of unpredictability to the proceedings.
Tamahori, best known recently for action outings such as XXX: State of the Union and Die Another Day, goes for a quieter, calmer tone here - though with a few noisy action sequences - and drops in a couple of references to the coolly detached movies of Stanley Kubrick.
With his bad haircut and hangdog expression, Cage is appealingly downbeat as the story's world-weary hero but Moore never comes into her own as the one-dimensional Callie. Veteran Peter Falk makes an all-too-brief cameo appearance as Cris' grizzled confidant Irv.
IEG Virtual Studios
Initial Entertainment Group
Arne L Schmidt