Next Lee Tamahori

It’s as though the triplet of writers attached to Lee Tamohori’s Next found a recycled Philip K. Dick book with the pages torn out. Drawn to the premise of Dick’s short story The Golden Man, it seems they wanted to use the material for either a videogame or a movie. Unfortunately, they chose the latter. Tapping Hollywood’s perennial source for dystopic fiction may seem like a safe bet, as films like Blade Runner and Minority Report have well-charted outcomes. However, those superior gambits weren’t stripped of their style, complexity or social weight, with the bare bones left for the gaming generation to fill in. This type of sacrilegious gutting is nothing new to the Estate of Philip K. Dick, as The Golden Man is merely the latest underachiever to be adapted into a high-octane, low neurons chase movie, where the ultimate question within the film is whether anyone really knows why he or she keeps running. Next stars Nicholas Cage in full mid-life crisis mode; he sports an embarrassing combo of full mane and overextending receding hairline. Cage plays Cris Johnson, a Vegas magician whose rundown pre-cog act is more real than some might suspect. Cris can see approximately two minutes into the future, giving him ample opportunity to size up the best approach to any immediate situation, a useful talent for escapes, car chases, gunfights and blackjack. How exactly this two-minute head start might thwart a nuclear attack is better left unquestioned, but that’s exactly why Julianne Moore’s F.B.I. agent, Callie Ferris, wants to recruit Chris. Apparently, a group of ominous Europeans — with no perceptible motives or character to speak of — have hijacked a nuclear explosive and are preparing to give Los Angeles the quake of a lifetime. Chris refuses to help for some sketchy reasons, while Callie insists that he can, with no clear basis. Meanwhile, the prototypical Euros, who seem to have missed the ’80s rush of espionage action vehicles, are the only ones honest enough to admit that they don’t know why they’re chasing Chris. Caught in the middle is Liz Cooper, the confused love interest, played by an even more confused Jessica Biel; her wooden acting is the least of the film’s worries, however. Liz’s destiny is inextricably linked with Cris’s (she haunts his visions), though the reasons for this never become clear apart from giving the latter a bedfellow for the better portion of the chase. Their romance begins with a playful diner sequence where Chris takes five stabs at the right first impression, which is oddly the movie’s premature climax. It all goes downhill from there, as the romance gets so stale (largely because of Biel’s sleepwalk performance) that it deserves no further mention. Miscast in a role that demands younger blood, Cage uses the best of his charm to detract both from the film’s weak points and his own inability to lunge like he used to. Meanwhile, Moore repeats the same note of menace throughout the film, as she throws her weight around to get results. Though the film seems to get by on repeated well-choreographed escape sequences — where Chris uses his fortune-teller tactics to elude anyone and everyone by a hair — the shtick soon gets tired, especially when you consider that Minority Report did the same thing with more economy. And while the sceptical plot and characters have more holes than the finale’s bullet-ridden set piece, the filmmaker’s smartest decision is to quickly move on to the next thrill before the audience gets wise. It’s best not to think about it, just play the game and take it to the next level. And when you get killed and thrown back to the beginning, you’re welcome to try again. But I doubt you’ll want to. (Paramount)