Monday, April 30, 2007


NEXT (Lee Tamahori, 2007)

Jean-Luc Godard stated that "the cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie." While the visibly unbroken shots in CHILDREN OF MEN demonstrate that the statement needs amending for the digital age, the idea remains that deceit is stitched into the fabric of movies. As moviegoers we expect filmmaker trickery to entertain and engage us, not just in breaking reality but also in telling compelling stories.

Lies of omission are generally deemed acceptable. If the audience is told everything from the start, what's left to reveal? The permissibility of lies of commission depends on the context, although even in the most fitting instances--dream logic films, such as MULHOLLAND DR.--some viewers are angered.

The sci-fi/action film NEXT tells a lie of commission that leaves viewers feeling cheated. Filmmakers can get away with breaking the audience's trust if the lie dazzles, if it enhances rather than detracts. NEXT'S cinematic whopper doesn't ruin a good film. This mundane adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel story THE GOLDEN MAN can't muster any suspense or much of a plot. Instead the lie adds insult to injury.

Las Vegas magician Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage), who performs as Frank Cadillac, can pull off a pretty neat feat. He can see two minutes into the future, although this is one trick he doesn't want anyone to know is in his repertoire. Cris was born with the ability and has spent his life trying to stay off the radar of those who want to exploit his gift. Two minutes of advance knowledge has its limits, but his precognitive skill is useful for winning at the casinos and strategizing the right way to flirt with a woman.

The government believes he is capable of providing the urgent help they need in finding a nuclear weapon terrorists are plotting to detonate in Los Angeles. FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) pursues Cris to no avail. When Liz (Jessica Biel), a stranger with whom Cris shares a mysterious connection, is put in harm's way, he finally agrees to assist the feds.

NEXT plays like the most boring episode ever of 24, with a little extrasensory flavor tossed in for good measure. The terrorists are an international amalgamation with no discernible agenda or personalities. There's no explanation for why they are so hung up on finding and eliminating Cris when he isn't terribly concerned about what they're doing. If he had it his way, the FBI would leave him alone. He's an aloof hero more than a reluctant one, a quality heightened by Cage's somnambulant performance.

NEXT is not a superhero movie, but it trawls in the same waters. Rather than exploring the obligations of a person blessed and burdened with super powers, the film's husk of a main character gets blown in whatever direction the slim plot dictates and reminds us he isn't happy about it.

The challenge in adapting Dick's stories into Hollywood features is balancing ideas and the demands for science fiction and action thrills. Director Lee Tamahori takes a half-hearted stab at both aspects and butchers the film in the process. Lacking in visceral excitement and intellectual depth, NEXT offers nothing but filler. The title invites us to take a pass on it. No arguments here.

Grade: D+

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