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Another Philip K. Dick Misfire

Loosely based on "The Golden Man", a short story written in 1954 by Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author whose stories and novels have served as the basis for Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Paycheck, Next takes one of Dick’s simpler ideas -- limited precognition -- and turns it into a muddled, disappointing science fiction/action/thriller directed by Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Mulholland Falls, Once Were Warriors) with minimal attention to the demands of logic-based storytelling and starring the ubiquitous Nicholas Cage in furrowed-brow, action-hero mode.

Cris “Frank Cadillac” Johnson (Cage) makes a modest living as a low-rent showroom magician in one of Las Vegas’ less spectacular casinos. His audience includes two FBI agents, Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) and Cavanaugh (Tory Kittles), who suspect Cris is more talented than he first appears. He is. Cris can see two minutes into the future and adjust his behavior accordingly.

When he’s not impressing audiences with his abilities to predict the future, he’s gambling and winning small pots at local casinos. One casino’s security staff notices something’s amiss and decides to interrogate Cris. Cris thwarts a casino robbery before fleeing. Ferris decides to pursue Cris and obtain his help in stopping a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles.

Before he can leave Las Vegas, though, Cris has to meet Liz (Jessica Biel). Actually, he hasn’t met her yet, but she’s appeared to him in visions of the future. Every day at the same time for two straight weeks Cris has waited for Liz to appear at a local diner. When she appears, Cris manages to convince her to give him a ride to Flagstaff, Arizona. Liz, however, doesn’t know that the FBI is after Cris and want his help in finding the bomb, and stopping the East European terrorists who smuggled it into the United States. The terrorists, led by Mr. Smith (Thomas Kretschmann), learn about Cris and rush to intercept and execute Cris before the FBI nabs him.

With its vaguely defined, generic (and, thus, politically inoffensive) Eastern European terrorists, agenda unknown, attempting to destroy a major U.S. city, Next seemingly takes a page from the FOX television series "24", down to the FBI agent/counterterrorism expert who’s willing to take any steps, up to and including torture, to force Cris to help take down the terrorists. In this case, though, the lead character isn’t an FBI or counter-terrorism expert, but an everyman burdened with the ability to see two minutes into his own future (and no one else's). Cris can only see two minutes into the future except when he’s around Liz, when he can apparently see farther into the future.

Unfortunately, it's an inadequately explained plot device that’s pure setup for a cheap, cop-out ending that undoes almost everything that came before it into a major reboot of the storyline. From the evidence on hand, it’s hard to understand what screenwriters Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Paul Bernbaum hoped to achieve.

Setting all that aside, there’s still plenty in Next that makes little to no sense, starting with the absence of an incident to tip the FBI of Cris’ abilities, then moving on to why one particular casino decided to go after Cris when he seemed safe, followed by how the generic terrorists also discover Cris’ abilities and decide it’s necessary to neutralize him rather than speed up the terrorist attack. Sadly, story problems aren’t all that beset Next. Outside of an action scene set in and around the Grand Canyon and a scene where Cris turns into Multiple Man in searching a cargo ship, Next has little else to offer, except for diehard Cage fans (you know who you are) who feel compelled to see Cage’s latest film on the big screen.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars