Teal Greyhavens

One of the more impressive feats in recent years is that Nicolas Cage, after all he’s done to us with movies like “National Treasure” and “Ghost Rider,” has managed to remain a supremely likeable guy. With hair that only gets worse and eyes gooeyer than Jello, he somehow wins us over with only a smile and a flutter of those luscious eyelashes filmed at just the right three-quarter angle, and we continue to pay money for his terrible, terrible movies, just because it’s him.

Granted, his new film, “Next,” also has the draw of being based on a Philip K. Dick story. Only it seems that, after the very fine “Minority Report,” Hollywood decided to open up the Dick vault and start handing his material out to every hack and crack addict with a camera, and that gave us “Paycheck” and now “Next,” a bouncy, despicable mess directed with enthusiasm by Lee Tamahori.

Cage plays Cris Johnson, a bottom-rung Vegas magician who happens to have the actually magical ability to see two minutes into his own future. Without even going into the ham-handed government effort to foil a terrorist plot to blow up Los Angeles, I can tell you that this means the movie is 96 minutes of that scene in “Minority Report” where Samantha Morton helps Tom Cruise evade detection by seeing into the future just far enough for them to hide behind things at all the right moments. “Next” shows off this little trick in its first five minutes, during a snazzy sequence in which Cage avoids detection in a casino, but then the rest of the movie doesn’t have anything to top it. Johnson is recruited by a laughably stern FBI agent (Julianne Moore, whom I recently heard referred to as “that woman who always dies”) to help thwart the terrorist plot, but is himself too obsessed with an airy honeydew blonde (Jessica Biel) to try, and we in the audience are too bored with the movie’s gimmick to care.

What “Next” does have is some of the worst romantic dialogue since “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” and the most ridiculous, upsetting ending that has ever capped a movie advertised as escapism. Had this ending been put on a different movie, and been done completely differently, and been intended to convey a completely different point, it could have been thought-provoking. But once you settle down and think about it, you realize that, really, with this ending, “Next” has wasted our time in the silliest possible way for at least 45 minutes. It would be like if “Groundhog’s Day” had taken the time to show us all 24 hours of one of Bill Murray’s failed, mediocre days, and then ended before showing us the day when he actually got it right.

Movies like this make us forget that really fascinating things can come from simple premises. A man who can see a little bit into his future should be the subject of a probing science fiction film––––or, wait a novel!––––not a fluffy action movie. “Next,” more concerned with being the next big blockbuster than with how our shortsightedness affects our lives, raises all kinds of questions, and then disguises them as cute throwaway moments, or lets them float by so it can get to a car chase. How does Johnson get through a day if he’s bombarded by an endless feed of future-images? How can he see “the future” if by his actions he can prevent that future from coming true? How can he go on as a low-life magician when he could see the lottery numbers before they were revealed?
The most depressing thing the movie does, twice, is make us think of Stanley Kubrick. First “Dr. Strangelove” appears on TV, then Cage is strapped into an FBI torture chair with his eyelids pried open à la “Clockwork Orange.” When you find yourself wishing you could watch the movie that a character just tuned to on the television, you’ve hit rock bottom. And to think what the science fiction master Kubrick might have done with Dick’s premise only makes this movie feel like even more of a dung pile than it is. And finally, when the ending pulls the shoddily-made rug out from under us, and makes us realize just how much nothing was on the screen, all that’s left is the movie’s title, which tells us quite plainly that this non-descript turd of a movie will float on by just quickly enough for whatever comes next, and that will almost certainly be a better film.

Grade: D