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HD DVD Review: Next

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Next, the film starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel, is based on a short story by award-winning science fiction author Philip K. Dick. The short story, “The Golden Man,” was originally written back in 1954. The movie was just released early in 2007.

Precious little has been left of the original short story. The main plot, the fact that Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) has the uncanny ability of seeing into his future two whole minutes. In the short story, Cris was a mutant. As the result of his upbringing, the Cris in the short story turned feral and wouldn’t let anyone else near him. The government pursued him to destroy him because all mutants were feared.

Nicolas Cage’s version of Cris Johnson portrays a small-time stage magician of humble means. Cris is a stage magician in Las Vegas under the name Frank Cadillac (which is a combination of two of his favorite things, Frankenstein and Cadillacs) and plays to a modest audience every night. To supplement his income, Cris hits the casinos. Since he shares the same power as the protagonist of the short story in being able to see two minutes into the future, he knows what the cards are going to be while playing blackjack. He doesn’t win big, but he wins consistently enough to support himself – and to occasionally invoke the ire of the casino security people.

Special Agent Callie Ferris of the FBI (Julianne Moore) has been keeping an eye on Cris’s career. She’s become convinced that he’s a precog (having the ability of pre-recognition to see into the future) and has studied him.

While in the casino, Cris knows he’s alerted the security team and they’re coming to shut him down. On his way out, he runs across a man who’s planning to rob the casino. If Cris allows events to run their course, two innocent people will be killed. He takes the guy out, then the movie moves into a blistering tour de force of what it might be like to pursue a man who can see two minutes into the future.

These scenes are amazing and comical. While the casino guys pursue Cris, he walks between them, around them, and behind them. He takes time to smoke a cigarette, ducks down to pick up a coin at an appropriate time to keep from being identified and in general makes all of them look like they’re standing still. This sequence is definitely one of the better pieces in the film.

The car chase, which the special effects involving Cris’s stolen car getting smashed to pieces by a speeding train, is awesome and looks really great in this HD-DVD version. It’s a little showy and over-the-top, but this is why you bought your HD-DVD player, folks.

Unfortunately, the movie can’t sustain the initial promise of Cris’s amazing powers. The plot quickly settles into a paint-by-numbers route that doesn’t surprise very often. Even more unfortunate is that the really big surprise at the end frustrates many viewers. I’m sure when it was conceived that a lot of the people who worked on the film thought the twist was totally amazing. But I felt cheated, and I bet a lot of other viewers did too.

Hollywood also decided to add a love story to the mix. Jessica Biel stars as Elizabeth Cooper, the only person Cris has been able to see more than two minutes into the future. He’s actually seen her four months before he gets the chance to meet her, which leads him to believe she’s important. She’s a teacher on an Indian reservation.

I have to admit, the sequence of “future” takes where Cris tries to figure out how to best approach her was hilarious. And the action sequences where he fights her ex-boyfriend so easily because he knows where all the punches are coming from led me to think about what it was going to be like for the FBI when they tried to lock him down.

Later, when Cris is almost apprehended by the FBI while at the mountain cabin, the action totally goes over the top. Fleeing down the mountain a few steps ahead of an avalanche of boulders, logs, and vehicles would normally be cool. But Cris makes it look too easy. I didn’t have to see into the future to know that he was going to avoid everything. Even the sequence where Callie stands up to him amid all the wreckage and the impending doom and asks him if he’s just going to let her die is telegraphed. It just had to be. You’d think he’d have seen that somewhere along the way and been able to factor that in.

Another big problem with the film is the threat of the terrorists. We never find out who they are, or even who they’re working for, or what they plan on doing with the nuclear weapon they’ve hijacked. They remain, throughout the film, an unshaped force of impending doom. I also didn’t understand why they killed the casino security guy, but I think it was just to show they were bad men and to give the movie a body count early on.

Next almost saves itself in the final minutes of the film when Cris leads the FBI team into a warehouse in pursuit of the terrorist. He taps the FBI shooters on the shoulders and points out hidden snipers before they get shot, which looks really cool. But the best effect of all is when Cris volunteers to clear a section and scope out all the possibilities. The special effects that show him splitting into two or three different selves at the juncture of every hallway or stairwell is amazing. To reveal my comic book nerdiness, I immediately thought of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, of Marvel Comics’ X-Factor title. Now those scene fired on all cylinders and really works.

But in the end it’s Cage’s flat delivery of the character and Julianne Moore’s perfunctory walkthrough of her character that fails to inspire viewers. However, the problems ultimately result from the script because not enough was done, and what was done was immediately predictable. There were nice bits. Cage’s magic tricks look flawless (and you can see him act with his real-life wife in the opening sequences during the magic show). Biel’s performance was really good, but in roles like this she’s a natural.

The HD-DVD presentation is stunning. The scenes shot in the mountains are breathtaking and magnificent. The beautiful scenery just swells onto the screen and makes you actually forget you’re watching a movie for a time. Also, the action sequences of the avalanche pouring down the mountain are sharp and filled with details that require a high-def presentation to show everything.

Although Next is nothing spectacular in execution or story, it is highly watchable. At an hour and a half long, it spins through the story effortlessly and pulls the viewer through the events effortlessly if not in a wholly engaging delivery. I enjoyed the movie and will watch it again, but it’s not something everyone will be happy with. If you want a light, action-based movie with a hint of predictability so you don’t have to strain to keep up, this is a great movie for buddy-night or just relaxing entertainment.

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About Mel Odom

  • Mat Brewster

    I saw this on the very long flight from Chicago to Shanghai. Had I not been stuck in a metal tube thousands of miles over the ocean, I would have walked out.

    In hindsight, I probably should have.