Lee Tamahori’s Next is one of those twisty paranormal tales that zigs when you expect it to zag and explodes when you expect it to pause. Based on the Philip K. Dick story The Golden Man, Next does a lovely job of updating the original tale to give us a fun ride that rarely missteps…
Chris Johnson [Nicolas Cage] has a gig as a second-rate magician/mentalist in a Las Vegas casino – a gig that hides the fact that he can actually see two minutes into the future, even if it’s only his future. His ability has become known to a select group of FBI agents headed by Special Agent Callie Ferris, who seeks to enlist him to help track down a stolen nuclear device that will be set off in Los Angeles.
The script, by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum, does a very cool job of showing us how Johnson [stage name Frank Cadillac] uses his ability to work his act and then, later, win small amounts of money at various casino games – though his restraint does not escape the watchful eyes of the casino’s security manager. The ensuing effort by said manager to catch Johnson is one of the most beautifully choreographed sequences I’ve ever seen. It’s subtle, sly, wry and very effective in establishing that Johnson does, indeed, have a gift.
Just as Special Agent Ferris is seeking Johnson, so too are the people behind the impending nuclear event. Unlike Ferris’ team, they play things a little more violently. As both sides seek Johnson, he’s acting on the one instance in which he has “seen” farther than two minutes into the future – stopping in at a specific diner, to meet a specific woman. That woman is Liz Cooper [Jessica Biel], and the moments leading up to their meeting are great, if twisted, fun.
Once all the players are involved, the emphasis shifts from character and humor to action – and it is pretty spectacular action, too. Johnson resorts to some pretty imaginative actions to elude his pursuers, but eventually becomes victimized by his own inherent decency.
One of the strangest aspects of the film is that Tamahori frequently films Johnson’s clairvoyant visions in exactly the same way he shoots the real scenes. The result is that the audience is frequently caught off guard by events that could have tragic consequences. On the other hand, there are visual clues planted to demarcate the shifts from vision to reality – though they might not be apparent until after the film ends.
Next works because of its smart script and shrewd performances by Cage and Moore – and Biel does a workmanlike job in another small, but pivotal role. The villains are mostly nondescript and/or clich