9/11/07

R044 Next

(2007, Action-SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike and Bridget Nelson

Huh. That was weird. I’m glad we won’t be seeing that again.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Nicolas Cage can see the future!

Summary:

I see hot people.Frank Cadillac a.k.a. Cris Johnson (a.k.a. Nicolas Cage) can see the future—two minutes into his own, personal future, that is. He makes a comfortable living off this limited precognition as a psychic act in Vegas, supplementing on the side by cheating at cards and slot machines. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, everyone gets upset about this; “everyone” being casino security, FBI agent Callie Ferris (an unusually surly Julianne Moore), and an indeterminate number of European terrorists. Casino security has noticed that he never loses, and suspect him of running a scam. Agent Ferris has somehow figured out his abilities, and thinks he can help her foil the European terrorists, who have smuggled a nuke into Los Angeles. The European terrorists know that Agent Ferris wants Cris to help her foil them, which I guess is reason enough for them to try and find him first. All this leads to a high-speed car chase that includes several nonsensical flash-forward effects and ends, inexplicably, with Peter Falk.

(Let me pause right here for a moment to declare a moratorium on phrases that include words like somehow, for some reason, for no apparent reason, I guess, and inexplicably. They’re cluttering my prose, and if I don’t stop them now, they’ll take over the entire summary. Sufficeth to say that the movie is entirely illogical even by its own rather murky rules, and makes no attempts to explain anything.)

The sole exception to Cris’ two minute rule is Liz (Jessica Biel), whose future is open to him indefinitely. After weeks of searching, he finally finds her in a diner, and uses his ability to bum a ride to Flagstaff. Some obligatory exposition reveals her as a Do Gooder (i.e. a volunteer teacher of Native Americans). He eventually worms his way into her affections, and they make love in a roadside motel.

Check out my Malcolm McDowell impression.Shortly thereafter, the FBI and the terrorists catch up with them simultaneously. Agent Ferris tries to get around the two minute precognition thing by pressuring Liz into drugging Cris’ orange juice. Liz almost does it, but has a change of heart at the last minute. He proves his powers to her by knowing what’s on every channel before he flips to it, and then tells her how to help him escape. One long, messy downhill chase later, he realizes his plan will get Agent Ferris killed. He sacrifices his freedom to save her from the landslide he created.

In an odd display of gratitude, Ferris clips his eyes open and forces him to watch TV. Meanwhile, the terrorists kidnap Liz and stuff her into an explosive vest, which they plan to explode in two hours. Cris’ extended Liz-based precognition lets him see this on the news. He escapes FBI custody to find the place. Ferris catches up with him and arranges for him to flush out the terrorist sniper poised to gun him down. He leads them to the terrorist hideout, and one longer, messier fight scene later, his precognition helps the FBI rescue Liz and wipe out the terrorist cell. There’s just one problem: the stolen nuke isn’t there. Cris foresees the blast seconds before Los Angeles gets reduced to irradiated cinders...

But it’s okay, because everything that happened since the motel sex scene has been an extended Liz-based vision. Cris tells Liz he’ll be back in a week or so and strolls out the help the FBI.

Thoughts:

Jessica Biel steels herself against Cage's creepiness.The plot doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. No surprise there, precognition/time travel movies have plot holes built right into the premise—the good ones are just better at distracting us from them than the bad ones. This movie’s illogical precognitive gimmicks certainly qualify it as a bad one, but it doesn’t seem content with just that. Next doesn’t merely refuse to cover its paradoxes; it goes the extra mile by adding plot holes that have nothing to do with Cris’ powers. Peter Falk, for instance. What does he have to do with anything? More egregiously, why are the FBI/terrorists wasting so much time tracking down a man of such limited supernatural ability? Don’t they have better things to do, like, say, saving/destroying Los Angeles? Why does the French Resistance want to blow up Los Angeles anyway? Is this about that city’s perceived anti-mime agenda? Revenge for our government’s years-old freedom fries joke? Are they finally getting back at us for not pitching in during the French revolution? What?

At least it isn’t boring. The plot keeps moving even if reason and logic do not, racing from gimmick to chase back to gimmick until the movie finally shudders to a halt. (And you know you’ve horribly botched your movie when the best possible ending goes, “And it was all a dream...”). The film’s other good point: it’s relatively short. Comparing Next to the rest of Cage’s dismal recent career, the best thing I can say is that it’s better than Wicker Man. Not high praise, I know, but it’s more than this nonsensical turd deserves.

Bridget Nelson joins her husband Mike on the commentary track, and she is a goofball. I don’t know if it’s the comments she makes, the way she pitches her voice, or both, but to me she sounds like an intelligent, female version of Bullwinkle. And, since I happen to like Bullwinkle, this is a good thing. During Nicolas Cage’s lame mentalist act at the beginning, she says, “I don’t suppose there’s a chance he’ll get mauled by a white tiger.” Near the end, when Cage stops talking more than one word at a time, she says, “They went over budget and now they’re paying Nick by the syllable.” Throughout she says, “That was weird. I’m glad we won’t be seeing that again,” every time they use that stupid flash forward effect to indicate Cage’s precognitive visions. As the closing credits roll, Mike remarks, “They couldn’t figure out how to end it, so they just crashed the whole production into a pole and left it smoking by the roadside.” It’s an awful film, but not a boring one, and Mike and Bridget are good at what they do. I hope she joins him for more Rifftrax in the future.