Based on the Phillip K. Dick story "The Golden Man", "Next" stars Nicholas Cage as Cris Johnson, a magician working out of a low-end nightclub in Las Vegas, spending his nights doing a "psychic" act. However, the difference between Cris and all the other acts doing the same sort of thing in the neon-soaked city is that Cris is not an act. Cris can actually see two minutes into the future.
The film opens with Cris doing a show (a perfect example of Cage's off-beat humor), with - unknown to him - a couple of Federal agents in the audience. He then heads to the casinos, where he tries to win enough money (although only betting against the house, not others) to earn a living. While he tries to slip under the radar, it's unsuccessful this time around, and he has to use his abilities to both sneak out of the casino with cops and cameras everywhere, then evade traffic when the situation turns into a car chase.
Federal agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) eventually tracks him down after the car he stole is traced. Or did she just miss him? Ferris is seeking Johnson because a nuclear weapon has been stolen and will be used in Los Angeles unless Johnson can track it down first. There's also the matter of a girl named Liz (Jessica Biel) whose future Cris can see further ahead than 2 minutes into (why he can is never explained) and a group of Russians who are tracking down Johnson because they believe (how they are aware of him in the first place probably hit the editing room floor) he can get in the way. The remainder of the movie has Callie obtaining Cris and getting him to help in her search.
I liked elements of "Next", but there were some issues that I had with the film, starting with Biel. It's not that I dislike Biel and it's not that she gives a bad performance here. It's simply that she's not entirely necessary to the movie and the film doesn't know whether to really make her a romantic interest or not. Beyond that, she and Cage never seem much like a right fit during their meeting scenes mid-film. The film's other major issue is the ending, which, while not entirely unexpected and not exactly the wrong way to go (obviously, I'm trying not to give it away) just doesn't feel handled very well. It's a twist for the sake of a twist, feels rushed and doesn't really resolve anything.
As for the positives, I can't imagine anyone playing this role aside from Cage. While by no means the actor's finest hour, his sort of low-key humor works well in the early scenes and he still manages the physicality of action scenes reasonably well. Moore isn't terribly believable as the FBI agent (largely because the character is underwritten - it feels as if a fair amount of this movie was cut out, in fact), but it's an intense performance and she plays off of Cage's subdued energy well.
However, Cage sometimes seems a bit too subdued, given the situations. Director Lee Tamahori ("The Edge") wouldn't be a director I'd consider one of the prime action directors working today, but his straightforward approach to action scenes does have an appeal in this age of hyper-edited action pictures. The film's set of action scenes aren't epic in size, but they're entertaining and enjoyable (especially a scene where a pile of giant logs and a structure tumbles down a hill after Cris), even if a few of the effects seem a little shaky.
Overall, "Next" was simply an uneven film. The film starts off really quite well, then the film becomes more hit-and-miss as it heads into the second half. Still, it has its moments and would likely be best as a rental.
VIDEO: "Next" is presented by Paramount in 2.35;1 anamorphic widescreen. The film was shot digitally with the increasingly popular Panavision Genesis HD Camera and the transfer here presents the picture reasonably well. Detail and definition appeared satisfactory throughout much of the movie, although a few scenes looked mildly softer. Some minor artifacting and a couple of slight instances of edge enhancement appeared, but no other issues were seen. Colors remained rich and well-saturated, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack wasn't demo quality, but it was an enjoyable action flick sound mix, with some good use of the rear speakers for effects during some of the film's main action sequences. Audio quality was fine, as sound effects seemed crisp and punchy, while dialogue sounded clear and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: "Making the Best Next Thing" is an 18-minute documentary that takes a look at the making of the picture. We hear from writer Gary Goldman, Biel, Cage, producer Todd Garner and others. We hear about the development of the project, casting, working with the actors, smoothing out some aspects of the story, the filming of some of the action and more. We find out that Cage came up with some aspects of the story (that Cris was a magician) and that the "Cage" persona seen on-screen seems to carry over to being around the set, as well. There are a few "fluffy" moments in this piece, but overall, the documentary is somewhat better than these sorts of pieces usually are.
"Visualizing the Next Move" is a shorter piece that discusses the production's decision to go with CGI effects instead of practical effects. We then hear how the film's main CG sequences were filmed and then built up in the computer. "The Next Grand Idea" looks at filming in the Grand Canyon area with a local Indian tribe. Everyone had to be helicoptered in and out of the location. "Two Minutes in the Future with Jessica Biel" is Jessica Biel discussing for a couple of minutes whether or not she would like to see into her own future. Finally, we get previews for other Paramount titles, including "Transformers" and "Blades of Glory".
Final Thoughts: While flawed, "Next" is interesting and not without its moments. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality and a few minor extras.
The Film B-