Shitty Movie Sundays: Next

Next movie posterThank goodness for Nicolas Cage. He could have been like so many other best actor Oscar-winners and gone on to a lifetime of prestige roles and special appearances, but Cage decided to zig instead of zag. He’s a prolific worker, but a casual movie fan can be forgiven should they be unable to name anything he’s been in for the past ten years. He has fully, and without reservation it seems, given his life over to shitty movies. Just this year he has starred in a film about a former government assassin who runs a fleabag hotel in South America, another film about zoo animals running loose on a cargo ship, a neo-noir thriller, a drug wars action flick, an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, and a second neo-noir thriller. Six movies! And not one of them has been good enough to advertise during sporting events or primetime TV. But, I bet they’re all entertaining flicks.

This review steps back in time a little bit, to the tail end of Cage’s time as an A-lister.

From 2007, Next stars Cage as Cris Johnson, a smalltime Las Vegas stage magician who happens to have a real psychic talent. Johnson is able to see two minutes into his future and make decisions based off of those visions. It’s a pretty useful talent to have in a shitty magic act, and also makes him a buttload of cash at the blackjack tables.

But, Johnson’s winning streaks at the tables have not gone without notice. Besides casino security, the FBI has become aware that something about Johnson is not right.

Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is on Johnson’s trail, but not because he beats the house at cards. A small nuclear bomb has been stolen from Russia, and intelligence points to it being somewhere in the Los Angeles area. Ferris needs Johnson because she believes he can use his powers to locate the bomb. Whether or not a two-minute peek into the future will help is beside the point. The government is frantic, and will use any advantage it can find, no matter how outlandish.

Johnson, however, isn’t so keen to help out. His abilities left him traumatized as a child, due to some severe experimentation he was put through. Johnson believes, with some justification, that if he helps the government with this emergency, they will never release him from their custody, because he will have proven too valuable.

Thus begins a cat and mouse game, where Ferris tries over and over to capture a man who can see her coming from literally miles away. Oh, and there’s a love interest, in the form of Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel).

The romance she has with Johnson isn’t as important as what it represents for Johnson’s abilities. He foresees first meeting Liz years before the event occurs, rather than minutes. Over this time, he has built Liz up in his mind as the love of his life, so protecting that future is as important to Johnson as avoiding the government.

There’s nothing wrong with including a love interest in this story, but a viewer would be hard-pressed to find a more one-dimensional character in film. Liz exists to be the perfect fulfillment of Johnson’s fantasies. When she turns out to be real, some rough edges here and there would have been nice, and far less patronizing to the audience. None of this is Biel’s, or, possibly, director Lee Tamahori’s fault. Her character is so rote that it had to have come from the producers. Liz is the kind of shit that only gets dreamt up in a conference room.

All the other stuff is good for a sci-fi action flick, though. That’s not surprising, since the source material (heavily altered) is a Philip K. Dick short story. This film was penned by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Paul Bernbaum. Somewhere between Dick publishing his story, multiple drafts from these fellas, and input from the producers, everything got twisted and turned around. What viewers get is a film that only bears a peripheral relationship to Dick’s original. Still, good ideas.

Where the film doesn’t work is in its execution. The first thing viewers will notice is that the CGI stinks. This film is from 2007, which was hardly the dark ages when it came to what audiences could expect from CGI. But the CGI in this flick is barely better than what one would see in any random SyFy production. It’s cartoonish and never looks like it’s a part of the shot. The most egregious instances are in scenes that don’t have any flash, such as Nic Cage driving down the road. It kicks a viewer right out of the film.

There are flaws in the storytelling, as well. Viewers are told early on what are the rules of Johnson’s abilities, but those rules are discarded at every instance when the plot requires it. The story gets painted into corners many times, but then a tweak to Johnson’s powers moves the plot forward once again.

Next is something of a Hollywood mess. It showcases familiar faces in a big, loud movie whose ideas and swiftness disguise a lack of depth. A good film could have been made with this exact same cast and this exact same screenplay. Well, maybe the dialogue was beyond saving, but my point is, the material deserved better.

This is one of the more mediocre films to make the Shitty Movie Sundays cut. It could have gone either way, but it was films like this that were an indication of where Nicolas Cage was headed. As such, it is an important part of shitty movie history. Next lands in the middle of the pack in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index at #107, in between Soldier and The Giant Gila Monster.

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