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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
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The film is extraordinarily well crafted, gradually introducing the audience to the nature of Frank's power. There is a terrorist nuclear bomb subplot that provides a major plot motivator. With "24" now in its 6th season, this is already beginning to seem a bit tired as a plot device. Nevertheless it keeps things moving and offers Cage's character a fundamental dilemma: what good is a 2 minute warning against a nuclear bomb? In addition, Frank is being chased by Julianne Moore as a federal agent who has figured out Frank's talent and hopes to use it to find the bomb. I found this to be the one serious plot weakness, in that there is not enough of a backstory to explain how Moore's character has become so convinced that she absolutely must have Frank on her side to stop the bomb.
Initially, we see only the effects of Frank's power as he effortlessly evades capture in some beautifully crafted chase scenes, but as the film proceeds, we begin to become privy to Frank's glimpses of the future. I can't recall whether I ever read the Phil Dick story (The Golden Man) that the film is based upon, but it introduces a type of uncertainty that Dick loved to play with, in that we become less and less certain whether we are viewing the actual present or one of the many alternative futures that Frank sees. For Frank, the future has almost a Schrodinger's Cat quality, since just by looking at his future, he changes it. There is a wonderful scene toward the end in which Frank becomes a sort of quantum cloud of alternative Franks working his way through a booby-trapped factory.
The reviews I saw for this movie were not impressive, but film reviewers have always tended to have trouble appreciating Phil Dick. I thought that it was pretty nearly perfect. The ending, which I won't reveal, might strike some as a bit of a "bait-and-switch" but I thought that it worked perfectly, because by that time I was very much into Franks mindset in which possible futures become as real as present experience. There is one scene in which Jessica Biehl's character says something like, "life should be a surprise," and Frank says wistfully, "That would be nice."
The acting is top notch. Cage clearly appreciates science fiction, and is listed as a producer, and he is very convincing as Frank. Biehl and Julianne Moore round out the strong cast.
Be sure and stay for the credits, by the way; there is a minor joke.
The concept of the two minute warning is a great one, and my only real complaint about the movie is that I'd like to see this idea played out at even greater length. Perhaps Cage will consider producing a TV series with a similar character.