Saturday, January 31, 2009

Next -- A mini-review

“Well, the gag‘s OK, but the dynamite clashes with my hair.”

Well, I finally got around to watching Next because Mrs. Powers told me the movie had a pretty good plot premise -- the hero, played by Nicholas Cage, can see the future, but only two minutes into the future, and by altering his behavior, can change the future. His time limitation keeps him from making long-distance plans, like being god-king of Earth, but it does allow him to change things for his betterment in the short term.

When we initially meet Frank Cadillac (his stage name) he’s making an OK living doing a magic act in a Vegas lounge that involves him pretending that he is reading people’s minds, but instead is only looking two minutes into the future to see what they will say and do, then claims to have “read their minds” when he is actually just predicting the future.

There’s only been one exception to the two-minute rule, a visualization Cadillac has had of (cue Disneyesque bluebirds and squirrels) a Girl (played by Jessica Biel) who might be The One for him.

Cadillac also uses his gift to make money at the local casinos, winning small stakes poker hands and such, never taking in any big pots and occasionally losing so the casino overseers won’t know he’s “cheating” (I.e., beating the house consistently) and invite him out of their casino.

This practice comes a-cropper when Cadillac’s gift tells him that a man standing near him in the casino will attempt to rob the casino and will kill some people in the process. Cadillac sees that he can prevent this by attacking the man before he can draw his gun.

He wrenches the gun out of the man’s hands, but the casino cops think he’s the robber. So Cadillac uses his ability to predict the future to make an escape. It’s ridiculously easy for him because he can see ahead to know which routes and which moves will get him captured, and which won’t.

An FBI agent (Julianne Moore, doing a great job with the role) sees the casino’s tape of the robbery attempt and realizes that Cadillac has the power of precognition. She’s on the trail of terrorists who have a nuclear bomb and seem likely to blow it up somewhere in Vegas. She locates Cadillac and tries to enlist him in the chase, but he’s not interested because people used to make him look at flash cards and predict their outcome when he was a kid, plus he’s all hot to find The Girl.

OK, that’s an idiot plot right there. Cadillac doesn’t seem to “get” that the explosion of a nuclear device nearby will have a huge negative effect on his health and the health of The Girl. Being able to look two minutes into the future wouldn’t do anyone a hell of a lot of good if they’re that fucking stupid, so that shot the movie’s credibility all to hell for me right there.

Worse still (I could overlook the idiot plot if the movie were otherwise entertaining) is the fact that the movie drags like hell whenever The Girl storyline occurs, and there is a heck of a lot of The Girl storyline because she becomes a damsel in distress.

As much as I loves me some damsel in distress action, I think Next would have been a much better, more interesting movie if the storyline involving The Girl had been dumped entirely and it had been a straight-up story about the hunt for the terrorists and their nuke.

Of course, one interpretation of The Girl storyline would be that it was there to stretch the story out -- that with Cadillac’s powers it would be all too easy to locate and neutralize the terrorists -- all he would have to do is tell the FBI agents which moves would work best from minute to minute.

Well, let’s just say that this would not be a problem if the movie didn’t cheat on the basic premise concerning Cadillac’s power. I can’t be more specific without giving away too much of the plot.

I never thought I would want to toss a perfectly good damsel in distress scene out of a movie, but if it meant getting rid of The Girl plotline, I’d do it in a heartbeat. That’s a measure of how badly this movie misses the mark. What a shame: the central concept of the movie was brilliant and could have made a great thriller.

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