May 2-8, 2007

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Photograph by Joseph Lederer
Time waits for no man: Even those endowed with future sight still needs their Rolexes; Nicolas Cage stars in 'Next.'

Two-Minute Warning

Nicolas Cage stars as a lost X-Man in 'Next'

By Richard von Busack

CONSIDERING ITS video-game aesthetics, Next is a nice solid try. It is a sworn B-movie that knows when to stint the exposition, so that by the time the audience are wondering about the sievelike plot and the dialogue, they are already outside. To accommodate the numerous special effects and the desert landscapes, the film has been digitally copper-toned; the colors make a stoic Native American out of Cage, who has a black-dyed Buster Keaton haircut to match two ever-knitted eyebrows. Jessica Biel, improving in every movie, looks browned to a turn. Biel is quite tempting, doing one scene in a form-fitting bath towel, and yet she seems to have grown cuddly, too. (She's adorable enough to survive a toxically cute scene of holding a class with some Havasupi Indians next to a digitized waterfall.) Julianne Moore, russetized by the metallic sheen onscreen, resists the ballbuster clichés as an armed and ludicrous FBI agent. Cage, meanwhile, displays more avidity for comic-book movies than any other actor alive.

Next is supposedly based on Philip K. Dick's short story "The Golden Man," but it plays out like Marvel Comics. Cage's Cris Johnson, alias "Frankie Cadillac," must be an X-Man that Professor Xavier never managed to round up. Johnson possesses a mutant talent. He can read the future two minutes before it happens—but in reading the future, he changes it. To conceal himself, he has taken on the role of a magician in Vegas; we join him on the night he accidentally reveals himself by stopping an armed robber the instant before the felon pulls out his gun.

Even though he lives cheap, in a garage decorated with Christmas lights (and kindly old Peter Falk pottering around in it), news of Johnson's talent has gotten out worldwide to the FBI and a group of Russian Federation terrorists. The Russkies have hired out French agents (perhaps this plot bit is the New Zealander Lee Tamahori's payback for the Greenpeace attacks) who are prepared to detonate 10 kilotons in Los Angeles. Rescuing 8 million people is a task no movie hero should deny himself, so it is a little strange to see Johnson stall out and run from the FBI. And while Tamahori (Die Another Day) makes up for underwriting with full-steam-ahead plotting, the awkward lines stick out, including this interchange between Cris and his new girlfriend, Liz (Biel): "I like rain." "I like rain, too." Not what you'd call a script without an extra line of dialogue in it. Still, Tamahori's use of the two-minute-warning gimmick is usually either thrilling or comfortably amusing.

Cage's dry, almost morose humor gives Next just about the weight it deserves. Johnson's scene of revealing his powers to Biel's Liz is ingeniously tidy, especially since it involves nothing more technically tricky than a TV remote control. The final duel—perhaps 30 seconds long—has the brio of an old movie's sword fight. And who could improve upon Johnson's explanation for his stage name as a combination of "two things I like: Cadillacs and Frankenstein." Next is more of the latter than the former, but it runs.

Movie Times Next (PG-13; 96 min.), directed by Lee Tamahori, written by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hernsleigh and Paul Bernbaum, based on a story by Philip K. Dick, photographed by David Tattersall and starring Nicolas Cage, plays valleywide.

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