Despite a title that suggests nothing so much as the stirring saga of a man sitting in a barber shop waiting for an empty chair, Next is actually a pretty preposterous sci-fi yarn that asks the viewer to accept the idea that Nicolas Cage can see two minutes into the future and that Jessica Biel would sleep with him. I’m not sure which of those aspects of Next qualifies the film as science fiction.
The film is based on a story by Philip K. Dick called “The Golden Man” (which isn’t a much better title than Next, come to think of it). Ever since Ridley Scott turned Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” into Blade Runner (1982), the movies have been pretty keen on Dick—or at least on the prospect of turning his stories into pop-culture gold. The results have been uneven to say the least, and while Next is hardly in the same league as Blade Runner or Minority Report (2002), it’s certainly better than Impostor (2002) or Paycheck (2003), and less of a muddled drag than A Scanner Darkly (2006). Does this mean that Next is a good movie? No. But it’s an engagingly stupid one.
The screenplay was concocted by Gary Goldman (who coauthored John Carpenter’s magnificently loopy Big Trouble in Little China (1986)) and Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher)—two guys who know more about cheese than Kraft. Oh, and Paul Bernbaum (Hollywoodland), who must have wandered in by mistake. What they’ve cooked up goes something like this: Cage plays Chris Johnson, a low-rent Vegas stage magician, who supplements his income by using his precognitive gifts in the casinos. He never does anything flashy, mind you, because he doesn’t want to draw the government’s attention. Seems the government did all manner of things to him as a child to try to get something out of his two-minute telepathy. His life changes, though, when hard-ass FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) decides that his powers are the one thing that stands between the U.S. and a group of Russian terrorists with German accents and a peculiar tendency to speak French. The terrorists have a nuclear bomb and are all set to detonate it in Los Angeles. Now, if you’re wondering just how a two-minute warning (hey, that would have made a better title … no, skip it, that title was taken back in 1976 by a Larry Peerce film) is going to save L.A., you’re thinking way too deeply. The film doesn’t worry about this, so why should you?
Chris is resistant to Ferris’ idea—and little wonder, since as soon as the FBI gets their mitts on him, they strap him into a chair with his eyes clamped open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange and ask him to tell them where the bomb is. When this fails, he makes a deal with them, and faster than you can say “Ludovico treatment,” he makes a break—only to team up with a woman named Liz (Biel) who he “met” in a vision. (When it suits the film, Chris’s telepathy transcends the two-minute mark.) Working out every possible scenario via his precognition, he hits upon a strategy that gets Liz to team up with him—and, unbeknownst to her, they go on the lam with both the FBI and the German-accented, French-speaking Russians in hot pursuit.
From there, things get really complicated—all leading up to a magnificent non-ending that’s bound to annoy a lot of people, but is actually kind of clever. Without saying too much, I offer this: Just pay attention to the name of the motel where Chris and Liz spend the night. Yes, it’s all nonsense, but it’s sufficiently nonsensical to be entertaining. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke