Release year: 2007 • Posted June 22, 2014
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
Philip K. Dick
Lack of artistic commitment is my least favorite quality in a film. A close second is discrediting the source material. Not content with just doing both, Next also fails at mixing genres, underuses Nicolas Cage, is poorly written, and has terrible special effects. Next is a symphony of failure, a soundscape of excess, a full orchestra of contractually obligated actors. And Nic Cage is boring. So, so boring.
Next is based—loosely based—on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “The Golden Man,” about a dystopian post–Cold War future where nuclear radiation has created a class of mutants that humans are rounding up and euthanizing. A golden-skinned, golden-haired mutant has emerged with the power to envision how decisions play out in the future, and the power of irresistibility to women. Using these powers, he can escape from any scenario, which helps when the government wants to euthanize you.
Next is about a present-day Las Vegas magician named Cris Johnson, who can see exactly two minutes into his own future. He scams casinos to supplement his income. FBI Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is watching him because she suspects he has psychic powers that she could use to track down a group of rogue Russians who stole a nuclear warhead. Cage’s Johnson eventually agrees to help, and along the way he falls in love with a woman (Jessica Biel) who works on a reservation with Native American children.
So yes, that is what “based on ‘The Golden Man’” means in this case. It’s also what I meant by “discrediting the source material.” But what can you do? The book is in the public domain and the author is dead.
As I stated before, what’s more egregious is the lack of artistic commitment. The writers and director set the movie up so that they weren’t bound by the main characters’ decisions. With his two-minute foresight, Cris Johnson is incapable of making a bad choice because he always knows the outcome. However appealing it might seem on the surface, a movie where the protagonist can’t make a mistake is fundamentally boring.
Doubling down on this huge dose of ennui, we have Cage portraying Johnson as a man completely unmoved by his incredible ability. Maybe it’s technically realistic for him to be bored and listless. Nonetheless, it is a horrible acting choice that punishes the audience. Not only does the viewer know that nothing bad will happen to the protagonists, but the lead actor doesn’t even seem concerned about the few things happening around him that aren’t under his control. Not once does Cage emote in this movie. Never does he emerge from his pouty bubble. It’s aggressively bad acting.
Speaking of bad acting, are we over Jessica Biel? Of course she’s pretty to look at, but so is Evangeline Lilly, and Lilly can act. Let’s all agree not to see Jessica Biel movies anymore. It just encourages Hollywood to keep casting her. Personally, I think it’s worth it to prevent anything resembling this scene from Next from being made again. (Not that Cage was helping.)
Next can’t decide if it’s a love story, a 24-style nuclear bomb thriller, a sci-fi time travel flick, or a cop-versus-citizen action epic. In the end, it’s none of these things, changing course with every new vision Cris Johnson has.
To prove the total artistic bankruptcy of this movie, here’s one of the last things that happens: the nuclear bomb goes off, orange balls of fire tear through everything, and all seems lost. In the brief moment between the point when the screen fades to black and the camera cuts to a close-up shot of Nic Cage’s eye opening, you remember what movie you’re watching. You’ve been cheated—the last hour of the film was just a dream. It ends with Johnson and Agent Ferris driving into the distance, off to the real adventure that we don’t get to see. It’s almost worse than the ending of Lost in Translation.
- Nic Cage’s acting?
- Did his performance make the movie worse?
- Yes, and