Watching the ridiculous mess of plot holes and absurdity that is Lee Tamahori's Next invariably makes us wish we could see two-hours into the future to deem this movie a waste of time before we sit down to watch it. A slipshod work of Hollywood cliché, Next, pretends to be an interesting psychological action film trying to leave us wondering about the "what-if's" the movie proposes, when it actually only leaves us wondering how in heavens name any producer could expect us to believe that a middle-aged Nic Cage with bad hair could land Jessica Biel. Without any heart or spirit, this film relies on big bangs and a hot girl to bring the pre-pubescent boys out to spend their allowance at the box office.
Nicolas Cage, who has previously shown some signs of promise in films like Leaving in Las Vegas and Adaptation, falls even further from his former place in our esteem with his latest in a succession of cruddy movies. Hey, at least this latest entry into the club of dismal Cage doesn't ask us to believe that his head bursts into flame as he rides a motorcycle, just that he can miraculously see the future, and with this power duplicate himself, dodge bullets, avoid booby traps, and save the day all while standing in one place looking more like he has a blockage in his bowels than a blockage in his clairvoyance. Actually, come to think of it, we might prefer the flaming skull-head. After this latest installment in his addiction to bad films, we all have almost lost hope that he will go back to working on his acting rather than on his abs (which were amply visible the couple times Cage took off his shirt).
One must feel sorry for Jessica Biel and Julianne Moore, as so very little is given to them in the comic-strip writing of their characters that we can hardly be surprised when the performances come out flat and cliché. In fact, it is worth pondering, what in this movie is not cliché? The nuclear/chemical/biological weapon that was stolen by terrorists and now must be found before "8 million people die"? Nope, The Sum of All Fears, XXX, and The Peacemaker are just a few of the bevy of post-cold war movies focusing on what happens if the weapons from the build up land in the wrong hands. Maybe the hard-ass but essentially well meaning federal agent, willing to do anything to for the greater good? The Bourne Identity and most CIA or FBI based films. So, how about the clever crane shot of Las Vegas with blinding neon and the tune of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation"? Nope, Ocean's Eleven for one beat them to that one. How about the neat bullet dodging effect? Nope, The Matrix. That nifty little tool used to keep Nic Cage's eyelids open? No, A Clockwork Orange did it first. How about the concept of a guy knowing the future and thus knowing exactly where to be at exactly the right time? Sorry, that was Groundhog Day. The major dilemma of whether to sacrifice the individual for the common good? Um let's see, nearly all superhero movies most notably Spiderman and Batman Begins. Then there's also Good Will Hunting and the list goes on. How about the potentially mind-boggling ending that reveals it's all been a dream/ look into the future? There are too many to list. For the most part the film looks entirely Hollywood with whiffs of an attempt at pulpy, arty shots in which Cage is in sharp focus surrounded by an intense blur, supposedly to suggest that only Chris Johnson has a clear view of the world that to others is so blurry. But we're not fooled by the soft, all too obvious attempts at cinematic metaphor because the emblematic Hollywood action sequences with the CGI SUV's and log trucks falling from the sky or in an odd greenly lit warehouse make it abundantly clear that what may appear to be artistic attempts (albeit weak ones) in the film were bastardized by their connection with the omnipresent Hollywood conventions. Therefore, the shots that might be trying to have significance start to look like a director's obsession with sharp close-ups. The music was overpowering and didactic. Every note gave away exactly what was to happen next, if we didn't already know from seeing innumerable similar action plots prior to this one. The dialogue was strained, often ludicrous, and, of course, previously done: "I have seen every possible ending, and none of them are good for you," "There's something I have to do, and I can't put it off any longer." Not to mention the tragically botched punch-line of the old Zen hot dog joke, "I'll have one with everything." For the edification of those of us who have not had the joy to hear the actual joke, the Zen Buddhist says to the hot dog vendor, "Make me one with everything." With such uninspired writing, we would love to ask, did anyone bother to edit or did they expect this whorey slop to pass for actual discourse?
There's something bitterly ironic that in a film entitled Next, there is absolutely no original ideas or circumstances. However, it does work in a way probably completely unintentionally; we, like Chris Johnson, knew everything that was coming, we just didn't have the happy ability to know we knew what was coming and avoid it. What else is there to say but, next please.
***This review was written somewhat in reference to the style and voice of Pauline Kael
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