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Unless you are deep into quantum physics the concept of time is a mystery. We know it exists and that our lives are controlled by it but it seems to be that we can exist in only one moment, the present. There have been more stories about being able to see into the future than can be counted. ‘Next’ is one of the newest entries into this long list. Based on a story by noted Science-Fiction writer Philip K. Dick and directed by Lee Tamahori. It is concerned with a man, who possesses a rather strange ability, he can see up to two minutes into the future. While this may seem trivial just ponder this for a moment and you most likely will come to the conclusion that if you could do it you would be on the next plane to Las Vegas. Like many recent thrillers the impending threat is not from spies, which went out with the end of the cold war. Now the bad guys of today’s films are terrorists, reflecting the dominate fear of the audience. It is filled with action, car chases and a suitable amount of thrills but comes up a little short when it comes to character development. Still the flick works for its genre and delivers an enjoyable romp through a strange and dangerous world.

Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a man with a gift, he can see two minutes into the future. He is also an underachiever using his ability as a lounge act magician in Las Vegas under the nom de voyage of Frank Cadillac. He is not a headliner or even popular in this venue usually playing to rooms that are almost completely empty. He augments his meager living with low stakes gambling in the casinos. With his unique talent he could easily make a big score but he content just to win enough to get by. This does seem to be one little catch with his clairvoyance. He has visions of a woman he doesn’t know. It turns out that the visions he has of Liz (Jessica Biel) go far past the normal two minute limit. Life for Cris may not be overly exciting but it’s a living. That is until one night when he is watched by some FBI agents. After his show Cris goes to the casino floor for his usual gambling. Of course he wins and his observers think that he must be cheating in some way. When Cris goes to cash out his chips he notices a very nervous looking man at the cashier’s cage. Cris has a vision that the man has a gun and is going to rob the cashier. He grabs the man and takes his gun but the security guards think that he is the robber. Catching a man who can see even two minutes into the future proves problematic for security. Catching a man who can see even two minutes into the future proves problematic for security and Cris gets away stealing a car in the process. On the run Cris decides to find help with an old friend, Irv (Peter Falk). Cris is reluctant to leave Las Vegas since he needs to find out about the young woman in his visions and why he can see further into her future.

While examining the security recording from the casino one FBI agent, Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) deduces Cris’ ability. She is certain that it can be used to help prevent a group of terrorist who have a nuclear bomb and the intention to set it off. Cris uses his power to evade Ferris but is still unwilling to leave town. Meanwhile some of the terrorist have killed the casino’s head of security and gotten a hold of the tape with Cris. During this time Cris goes to a diner and sees Liz. He uses his ability to test out various scenarios of meeting her. Most concern the appearance of her abusive boyfriend. Cris figures that if he can ‘save’ her he would have an instant in with her. Although he can avoid being hit by the boyfriend when he intervenes Cris feels that letting himself get hit would make him more sympathetic to the young woman. After the event plays out he tells Liz that his car was stolen. He knows that she is headed to Flagstaff and states that as his destination. As they drive through the state Liz stops at the Native American reservation where she works as a teacher. Cris is anxious to speak to the local shaman about his ability. Ferris is only a few steps behind. She goes to the dinner and eventually off to Flagstaff. While this is going on the French terrorist have the bomb delivered. When the leader of the group, Mr. Smith (Thomas Kretschmann) learns of Cris and his potential he orders him killed. What follows is a chase between the terrorist, Ferris and Cris. The action is fast pace but by this time the plot line thins.

Director Lee Tamahori may not have a long resume but it is impressive. He has directed episodes of the old ‘Ray Bradbury Theater’ as well as the ‘Sopranos’. His experience in complex plot lines comes from his film ‘Mulholland Falls’ and his exercise in action from ‘xXx: State of the Union’. In this film he starts off strong but as happens so very often, the film loses focus in the third act. There are too many loose ends left in the film. We never really find out why Cris can see far into Liz’s future or what darkness in his past drives him. This could have been a better film if it was presented more as a psychological thriller instead of relying on action. The pacing is fair dividing the story between Cris, Ferris and the terrorist. While it is difficult to have three stories converge Tamahori does manage it.

It may seem that the career of Nicolas Cage is uneven. Some of his films are fantastic hits while others fall flat. The reason is not his talent as an actor. It is because he is a dedicated professional who is able to take on projects he finds interesting and experiment with his craft. Sure, he missed the mark with ‘8MM’ but he was fantastic in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’. He has the ability to move from a dead pan persona to a man driven by action with ease. That helps this move a lot. A very talented actress here is Julianne Moore. She always brings her ‘A’ game to the table and this film is no different. She sells her role to the audience and that is what really matters. Jessica Biel is at that point in her career where she has to break away from the pack of beautiful young actresses and define herself as a real actress. As such she takes on roles that help her grow professionally and that means all sorts of characters to play. Here she gives a credible performance adding to the film.

Paramount Pictures releases this film to DVD with there usual attention to detail. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is flawless with excellent color and contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio provides a realistic sound field with the sub woofer sounding out in the action scenes. There are also some extras to add to the experience. There is the usual behind the scenes ‘making of’ featurette as well as couple of little features on the details of precognition as used in the film. There is a spot that focuses on ‘Two minutes in the future with Jennifer Biel’. In the final analysis this is a reasonable beer and pizza flick to enjoy on a Saturday night with some friends.

Posted 09/16/07

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