Next (DVD)

If you can see the future, you can save it.

I read an article once that referred to movies released in April as “placeholders.” There are usually a few major Hollywood movies released in March, and then the official summer movie season starts in May. This leaves April as this weird in-between month, which the studios usually fill with whatever lesser-hyped films they have.

Next, which was released in April 2007, is an action movie starring Nicholas Cage, Jessica Biel, and Julianne Moore. Now you’d think that, normally, an action movie starring Nicholas Cage, Jessica Biel, and Julianne Moore would be released at the height of summer. So is there something forgettable about Next, or is it the wave of the future for April movies?

Ever since he was a child, Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider) has had a unique ability. He can see into the future. Only two minutes into the future, but those two minutes are usually all he needs to manipulate events to work to his advantage. These days, he’s taken his ability and turned into a third-rate Las Vegas magic act. After preventing a murder at a casino, Cris is suspected of being the potential killer. After escaping from a small army of rent-a-cops, Cris is approached by FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore, Short Cuts). The government wants Cris to use his powers to help find a stolen nuke that some Euro-baddies plan to detonate somewhere in the southwest. Fearful of spending his life in prison or, worse, a scientist’s lab, Cris becomes a fugitive, on the run both from the law and from the nuke-happy terrorists. As if he doesn’t have enough to deal with, Cris is also haunted by another vision, the only one he’s ever had that goes farther into the future than two minutes. It involves a beautiful woman (Jessica Biel, Stealth) Cris has never met. Who is she, and role will she play in all this? That’s what Cris is determined to learn.

The best thing Next has going for it are some interesting ideas at the heart of the story. Sure, heroes who can see the future are nothing new, and we’ve seen them in everything from The Dead Zone to That’s So Raven, but this movie takes the concept in a slightly new direction. More than once during the movie, Cris makes the point that once he sees the future, it automatically changes, simply because he’s seen it. Whether he acts on what he sees, Cris is still altering future events simply by having seen them.

Yes, there are the types of scenes you’d expect from an actioner like this, such as when Cris has a sudden vision of a gun going off, and then leaps into action to prevent anyone from getting hurt when it does. More interesting to me, though, are moments when he rewrites his own decisions. He gets to look into his own future and ask, “What will happen if I do this?” If “this” doesn’t work out to his advantage, he gets to then ask, “OK, then, what I do that instead,” followed by a vision of how “that” works. With this ability, Cris is able to rewrite history over and over and over until he gets it right.

Yeah, this seeing and changing the future stuff makes for a nice intellectual curiosity, but there’s way too much that’s left unexplained here. Nicolas Cage doesn’t do his usual bug-eyed shrieking routine, which is good, but the downside to that is we never get to know Cris. When he’s initially mistaken for a criminal, it seems like a simple enough misunderstanding, but he instead has to lead a casino full of tough guys on a wild chase. Why does he run? I don’t see any true character motivation for this, other than it’s the beginning of the movie and the filmmakers want to start things off with a huge action scene. Also, is there any sort of cost to Cris’s seeing the future? When he sees himself die in the future several times—only to narrowly avoid it each time—wouldn’t that mess him up in the head? Wouldn’t he drive himself a little nuts after redoing the same few minutes over and over? Is there potential for him to get trapped in one of those “infinite loop” things we’ve seen in other time-travel stories? None of this is explored in favor of gunfights, car chases, and Jessica Biel looking hot.

Cage isn’t the only one with a flat performance. What happened to Julianne Moore? We all know how good she is playing the “tough woman who’s all business” character, so why can’t she pull it off here? Biel fares a little better, but her character is startlingly like the so-called “Mary Sue” characters that populate Internet fan fiction. She’s beautiful, kind, and intelligent, but she also has a tragic past. This allows the hero to easily swoop in and “rescue” her from her troubles, simply by being a nice guy. Biel’s character is more of a story device than a genuine character, something to provide motivation for Cris to stop running and instead take action. And the villains? They’re the stock Euro-trash bad guys that populate many a movie, and they have so little screen time in this one that they’re not even characters, just oily guys with guns shooting at our heroes.

Although the story is not much and the character work is lacking, Next serves up a couple of sweet action scenes. The opening chase—first through a crowded casino, and then into cars and down the streets of Vegas—has some nice little twists throughout. A foot chase through a forest stretches realism, but has one or two eye-popping stunts involving a runaway car and some gigantic logs. Then, the finale is the stuff action movie fans love, with explosions, machine guns, and even a good old-fashioned railing kill. It’s too bad the rest of the movie isn’t as good as these scenes.

A movie made in 2007 will not only have DVD in mind, but the next-gen discs as well, so it’s a no-brainer that the audio and visual quality is excellent. This is a bright, colorful movie, taking us from the lights of Vegas, to some lush forests, to a finale in a cold, blue industrial complex of some sort. All the colors and details are nicely captured, jumping off the screen. The 5.1 surround audio, too, excels, especially during the gunfights, when it sounds like the bullets are zipping around your living room as you watch. The four featurettes are self-congratulatory promotional stuff—interesting, but not very substantial.

So, what’re they going to call the inevitable sequel? Next to Last? Next Time? Next in Line? Next Door? Next: The Next Generation? Ne2t?

Anyway, Next has some intriguing ideas and some cool action, but it leaves you wanting more—and not in a good way.

The Verdict

Make it your next rental.

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