I should’ve known better. True, this wasn’t exactly a great weekend for new releases at the cineplex, but still I should’ve known better. The thing is, I needed to kill 100 minutes or so while I waited for the Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse to unspool before catching the 2nd half featuring Tarantino’s superior Death Proof. I’d been skimming the L.A. Weekly the night before while waiting for a steak burrito at Poquito Mas and I guess I’d filed Ella Taylor’s “Go” recommendation in my brain somewhere. “NEXT lives from one brilliantly executed chase sequence to the next” she’d awkwardly enthused. Ms. Taylor was either gunning for a pull-quote in the movie ads or she apparently spends most of her free time knitting, listening to relaxation CDs (I’m guessing her favorite would be Windsong: Wind Chimes in a Gentle Breeze) and gazing at her collection of Thomas Kinkade paintings. It turns out she wouldn’t know a “brilliantly executed chase sequence” if it kidnapped and sodomized one of her 37 cats.
This is the same woman who weeks before had dismissed Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (one of the more interesting films of the year) as “a repugnant exercise in moral relativism.” There is plenty of room to disagree about the merits and demerits of Black Book – it wouldn’t be a Paul Verhoeven film if it wasn’t controversial and if it’s audience wasn’t sharply divided after all. If you’ve seen the film, there is even a certain poetry to taking a dump on it as Taylor has, but she is as wrong about “moral relativism” in Black Book as she is about “brilliantly executed” in NEXT. Having now seen the latter, I’d suggest she spend less time worrying about the relativity of morality and more about the relativity of suck.
True, I can’t say I shouldn’t have seen it coming. For one thing, a PG-13 rated action movie is a often a bad idea. The rating is a warning sign that the movie might not be good enough to attract a large enough adult audience to be profitable. In order to expand the potential audience pool as much as possible, it also has to be suitable to the kiddies. An unfortunate side effect of this is that it means the film has also been gutted of sex and violence. The result: you’re left with a mediocre movie devoid of the two things that make even bad movies sometimes worthwhile. Another problem is that it’s not like the name Nicolas Cage is exactly a seal of quality these days. True, I have an enormous reserve of good will for the man because of the one-two punch of Raising Arizona and Moonstruck in 1987; followed by Wild at Heart, Red Rock West and Leaving Las Vegas in the 90s. Most recently, Cage gave us Adaptation. Six great roles in six great films that more than make up for all the Jerry Bruckheimer monstrosities, the Wings of Desire remake and even 8MM and Wicker Man (Woman to Nic Cage in a bear suit: “What is it? What’s wrong sister?” Nic Cage: SM-MACK!!!!!!). The thing is, even in his bad movies Cage is often pretty entertaining and so it was I allowed myself to be tricked by Ella Taylor.
Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, NEXT started out promisingly enough. Cage’s tongue appeared firmly planted in cheek in his role as Cris Johnson, a man with the ability to see 2 minutes into the future. Instead of using this unique skill to rule the world, Cage’s Cris is content keeping a low profile, apparently living in a garage with Peter Falk in Las Vegas while using his powers to perform a low rent magic act and to cheat at the occasional game of Blackjack. Despite his best efforts, Johnson’s clairvoyant abilities get the attention of FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) and also, coincidentally, a mysterious terrorist group she’s been assigned to track down before they can detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. I say ‘mysterious’ because I can neither tell whether these 24 rejects are French or Russian nor why they want to destroy Los Angeles. Cris couldn’t care less either. He would prefer to avoid both parties and instead track down the beautiful Jessica Biel whom he keeps seeing in visions that occur more than 2 minutes into the future. Perhaps he wants to learn more about his power or perhaps he just wants to get closer to Jessica Biel because she’s smoking hot. I can’t argue with the man on the latter point.
The set up is pretty silly, but the tongue-in-cheek tone to the opening half of the film lets you know you don’t have to take anything too seriously. “Just sit back and enjoy the ride,” the film is telling you. “It’ll all be over in 96 minutes.” This works for a while, but the problem is that the ride is never all that thrilling. The chase sequences so brilliant to Taylor are mostly poorly executed CGI completely lacking in the sense of danger inherent in any truly thrilling chase. Worse, there just aren’t enough of them. There’s way too much time spent making cute with Jessica Biel and hanging out with Native American kids for absolutely no reason related to plot or theme. Ultimately, the movie starts taking itself seriously and that is a fatal error. The light tone from the start evaporates and soon boredom sets in.
Had NEXT been more outrageous, either silly or thrilling or even bad, I might have been entertained. Unfortunately it was neither very good, offensively bad nor amusingly ridiculous. In fact, except for one thing I probably would’ve forgotten all about it by now and wouldn’t have even bothered to review it. That one thing is an ending that comes with a silly twist inexplicably described by Taylor as “deliciously sneaky”. Sure, if “delicious” is a cat turd then NEXT could be featured in Gourmet magazine (“Just in time for summer: delicious Kitty McNuggets for your next garden party!”). Ella Taylor is a crazy person. Don’t be fooled by her delusional scribblings.
It’s too bad Nicolas cage isn’t really a clairvoyant or he might have known how badly NEXT would turn out and he could have saved us all the trouble. You don’t need to see the future to know this movie blows. Save yourself 10 bucks plus 90 minutes of your life and just watch Nicolas Cage in The Best of Wickerman on YouTube for the 10th time. At least it’s still funny.
Oh no, not the bees…NOT THE BEES…Aggg!
Oh no MY EYES! MY EYES!!! AGGCoughGasp!!!!!
NEXT: USA 2007. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Written by Gary Goldman and Jonathan Hensleigh. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel. 1 hour 36 minutes. MPAA rating: PG13 for intense sequences of violent action, and some language. 2 stars (out of 5)