Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Ah, crap. My free trial of Blockbuster Online ended ten minutes ago. Maybe I'll keep it up for a month before switching to NetFlix; for as much as I'll grudgingly admit I can use this, getting to the HD-DVD and foreign stuff was too hard.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 January 2008 in Jay's Living Room (HD-DVD rented from Blockbuster Online)

Action movies, sci-fi action movies in particular, are often given low marks from critics for being stupid, or bloated, but a little bit of thought suggests that neither of those adjectives applies to Next. Aside from being short, it's frequently quite clever in how it makes use of its gimmick. The trouble is that as near as I can tell, nothing whatsoever happens in this movie for any discernible reason. Maybe all those details were sacrificed at the altar of the ninety-minute running time, but it would have been nice to know just why anyone in this movie does anything.

We don't know why Vegas magician Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) can see two minutes into the future. Well, except for the bit about meeting Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel) in a certain diner; he's known that would happen at a certain time for months, though he didn't know the date. No reason given for why she's an exception. We don't know why Department of Homeland Security Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) known about him and thinks his unique abilities could be key to stopping a terrorist attack. Heck, we don't know why a bunch of generically-aliased European terrorists want to set a nuclear bomb off in Los Angeles in the first place.

I suppose director Lee Tamahori and writers Gary Goldman, Paul Bernbaum, and Jonathan Hensleigh might be doing this on purpose - after all, if Johnson's thing is seeing the immediate future, maybe keeping the audience in the dark about the bigger picture is a deliberate and sensible choice. For that to work, though, I think they'd have to stick to the two-minute rule more faithfully, and there's too many unexplained exceptions. Yes, Liz is a common element to many of them, but why? She's attractive and nice and all, but her what makes this pretty hostage so special? At first I thought that maybe she and Cris might have the same power - she's kind of got the same golden skin tone that the filmmakers give Cage, but nothing ever comes of that.

(This is what comes of paying too much attention to the credits. You see that the film is based upon a Philip K. Dick store named "The Golden Man" and then try and find importance in what may just be Cage and Biel having a suntan.)

Anyway, whether by design or by a studio ordering cuts to squeeze an extra showing a day out of a dud, the end result is a movie that has less story tying its set pieces together than the average martial arts picture. So how do those set pieces fare? They're not bad, but "kind of clever" is the best that can be done in actually complimenting them. Two minutes isn't a lot of time in everyday terms, but it's a lot of time in an action sequence. So Tamahori and company have a bit of fun with the idea that the hair's-breadth escapes one might otherwise scoff at are something Cris can ensure, even in a pair of car chases. There are, of course, a couple scenes that rewind to emphasize that Cris doesn't want to do that, but the niftiest use of Cris's power, at least visually, comes toward the end when Tamahori shows multiple Crises branching off to indicate that he doesn't just see "the" future, but all possible futures. As clever as the idea is, it does sort of kill any immediate peril that Cris Johnson is in, and since we've spent the first two-thirds of the movie watching him try to evade the DHS, we're not exactly invested in their survival. The other big action sequence, a run down a hill dodging large pieces of debris, is hobbled by CGI that falls just short of being completely convincing.

The cast is good, but wasted. I like Nicolas Cage, and he's got a really nice knack for making silly throwaway one-liners and bits amusing, but he's got little else to work with here. Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel have even less, slotted into fairly generic hardass and designated hostage roles. I hope they got paid enough to do something cool for scale later on. Thomas Kretschmann doesn't even really have a character; his villain is barely even there.

Next's best bits are pretty nice; just not enough to hang a movie off of on their own. What's disappointing is that the filmmakers don't even seem to try.

Also at eFilmCritic, along with four other reviews

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