Las Vegas showroom magician Cris Johnson has a secret which is a gift and a curse which torments him: he can see a few minutes into the future. Sick of the examinations he underwent as a child and the interest of the government and medical establishment in his power, he lies low under an assumed name in Vegas, performing cheap tricks and living off small-time gambling 'winnings.' But when a terrorist group threatens to detonate a nuclear device in Los Angeles, government agent Callie Ferris must use all her wiles to capture Cris and convince him to help her stop the cataclysm.
The weirdness of actor Nicolas Cage and the weirdness of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick seem like a natural fit. The premise, taken from a short story by Dick, is a good one: A mediocre Las Vegas magician named Chris Johnson (Cage) can see into the future--but only about two minutes at the most. Just enough to pull off his act and to make some money at the gambling tables, so long as he's discreet. Unfortunately, he hasn't been discreet enough; a government agent (Julianne Moore) has sussed out his precognitive talent and wants to use him to track down terrorists. But all Johnson cares about is a beautiful young woman (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist
) that he can see in his future--much further in his future than he's ever seen before. Next
has flashes that point to a much, much better movie than it turned out to be. A sequence in which Johnson, clairvoyantly explores all the different permutations of how he might approach his mystery woman is both funny and thought-provoking, and when Johnson avoids pursuers by knowing just the right moment to turn a corner or duck his head, it's smart and suspenseful. Unfortunately, the terrorist part of the plot is utterly perfunctory and precognition is reduced to an action movie gimmick. Somewhere in there is the kernel of a romantic comedy about precognition that's just waiting to be made. Cage gives a solid if unsurprising performance, Moore is basically earning a paycheck, but Biel is unexpectedly good (and her part is considerably better-written than your usual romantic interest); her performance suggests a better future than anyone might have predicted. --Bret Fetzer
Beyond Next Stills from Next (click for larger image)