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Next DVD Review

Next (2007) movie poster Next

Theatrical Release: April 27, 2007 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Lee Tamahori

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Cris Johnson), Julianne Moore (Agent Callie Ferris), Jessica Biel (Liz Cooper), Thomas Kretschmann (Mr. Smith), Tory Kittles (Agent Cavanaugh), Peter Falk (Irv), Jim Beaver (Director Eric Wisdom), Enzo Cilenti (Mr. Jones), Jason Butler Harner (Jeff Baines), Jose Zuniga (Security Chief Roybal), Michael Trucco (Kendal), Laetitia Danielle (Miss Brown), Nicolas Pajon (Mr. Green), Sergej Trifunovic (Mr. White), Charles Chun (Davis), Patricia Prata (Showgirl), Jon Hughes (Emcee), Jack Ong (Man from Korea), Alice Kim Cage (Girl with Necklace)

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In Next, sporting a hairstyle that's nearly as unflattering as Tom Hanks' Da Vinci Code 'do, Nicolas Cage plays Las Vegas magician Cris Johnson. Bolstering his moderately-attended act, improving his odds in local casinos, and raising the interests of FBI agents is Cris' extremely unique power:
he can see into the future. Alas, there are some limitations to the clairvoyant abilities of Cris (stage name: Frank Cadillac). He can see just two minutes into the future and then only his future.

The film credits as its literary source the 1954 short story The Golden Man, written by Philip K. Dick, who, despite passing away 25 years ago, has been one of the authors most adapted in Hollywood this decade (Impostor, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly). Reading up on that sci-fi piece, however, reveals that this 2007 conventional, contemporary action/thriller bears little resemblance to Dick's post-apocalyptic tale about a gold-colored mutant whose seductive powers complement his soothsaying.

Here, Cage's protagonist is human and, as far as Cage characters go, not an especially quirky one. The 2 minutes head's up notice allows him to prevent danger and to avoid trouble while looking cool. The movie begins as if it's going to be a study of Cris Johnson's lifestyle, of unusual gift exploitation and occasional, inevitable heroism. But soon, we learn that the federal authorities, led by Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), are after Cris because, having identified his far too suave and sophisticated intuition, they decide he's their one and only shot at preventing terrorists from detonating a stolen nuclear bomb in California. As this banal premise would have it, the terrorists are unspecified Europeans and they too are seeking Cris Johnson, as a way of keeping authorities in the gray.

He doesn't know if you've been bad or good, but Las Vegas magician Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) does know what's going to happen to him in the "Next" two minutes. As FBI Agent Callie Ferris, Julianne Moore strikes a pose that her "The Fugitive" co-star Tommy Lee Jones did more convincingly and with more depth.

Cris' interests are elsewhere, namely on a vision of a lovely young lady (Jessica Biel) that provides him with his first instance of clairvoyance beyond two minutes. Approaching the woman, who is named Liz Cooper and plagued by a stalker ex-boyfriend, allows the film a stretch of comedy, as Cris makes a number of attempts at an appropriate introduction. Think Groundhog Day bar scene, but the negative outcomes are merely foreseen instead of actually occurring. The stage performer eventually finds the right opening note and gets to accompany Liz on a road trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, making a brief stop in Indian Country to allow Liz to check in on her reservation students.

In spite of the glaring but unspoken age difference (which is nothing to Cage, whose real-life young Korean-American wife appears briefly as part of his character's act), Cris and Liz are clear, perfect love interests and their romance comes to the foreground. The pair's improbably fast only-in-Hollywood connection is just a temporary focus, though, as Ferris and the barely-defined evildoers both pursue the world's most highly-sought clairvoyant.

Few attempts are made to help the outlandish concept feel realistic in such a standard action flick and Next even fails to make enough of Cris' intriguing powers. It toys with the visceral thrills of having a character who's able to narrowly dodge bullets (and falling cars and trees). It also dabbles a little bit in exploring the phenomenon of time passage, throwing around the word "destiny" and (repeatedly) the idea that the future changes as soon as Cris sees it. But it fails to build much suspense when every single misstep is instantly followed by the revelation that it was merely the grim future as momentarily perceived by Cris. With advance knowledge of death/ kidnapping/explosion, he's able to precisely alter fate and save face.

Wet out of the shower, Liz (Jessica Biel) smiles at Cris Johnson, who responds with faux-intellectual citation of how "Italian painter Carlotti" defines "beauty." Nicolas Cage has sort of A Clockwork Orange kind of moment or maybe he's just enjoying the funny eyewear.

In spite of its shortcomings, Next isn't the sloppy cornfest that Cage's earlier high-profile 2007 release, Ghost Rider, was.
Still, its plot is far more familiar than it is engaging and the obligatory extended action finale only barely manages to sustain interest. Its interesting concept, which is more the invention of screenwriter Gary Goldman (his first script since 1990's duo of Navy Seals and Dick-adapted Total Recall) than of Philip K. Dick, never realizes its full potential. The directing by Lee Tamahori is both standard and undetectable, putting this production in the same league as the weak-to-decent American action films (among them, Along Came a Spider, xXx: State of the Union, and 2002 Bond film Die Another Day) with which he's followed up his breakthrough helming (New Zealand's Once Were Warriors). In other words, there's no immediate threat of the films Tamahori makes becoming more remarkable than his arrest-earning Los Angeles antics.

Next is, at least, an okay film that's capable of better. Cage, who also produced the movie, never seems to throw himself into the role (as he did, albeit misguidedly so, for Johnny Blaze) or make Cris Johnson the memorable character he ought to be. His castmates don't offer much help either. Biel's looks are quite a bit better than her acting, which renders the central romance unconvincing and dull. Meanwhile, Moore seems like she should be above such a generic action movie, not that her spotty track record supports such an obvious observation. And though it's fun to see Peter Falk ("Columbo"), his role as a slow-moving friend amounts to, literally, a one-scene cameo. One needn't strain to take interest in the three leads and the movie's turn-of-events, but the over-reliance on fake-outs make it tough to be surprised or care all that much. And it's sad when a movie's boldest and most inspired choice is the decision to have end credits scroll down instead of up.

Released a couple of weeks ahead of the busy summer movie season, Next failed to make much of a dent in the box office, grossing just $18 million domestically (but more than twice that overseas). Cage has gotten paid more than that on certain films, and while an appealing leading man, an Oscar winner, and a prominent presence among 2007 cinema, his viability as an audience-drawing movie star still seems in question. It's possible to chalk up the few blockbusters he's had to other reasons -- for instance, producer Jerry Bruckheimer (behind 4 of Cage's 6 biggest grosses) and the appropriately trusted Marvel brand name. In any event, Next comes to DVD and HD DVD this week from Paramount, five full months after opening in theaters.

Buy Next on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish),
Dolby Surround (French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps
Also Available on Blu-ray

VIDEO and AUDIO

Next comes to DVD exclusively in its wide theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, of course enhanced for 16x9 displays. With the exception of one incredibly scenic location, there's not too much that's exciting about the movie visually. Naturally, the transfer doesn't disappoint -- it could be a little sharper and better-defined -- but the photographic style is so ordinary that one isn't apt to marvel. The same is true of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which sufficiently delivers all the sonic components (in Act 3, that includes no shortage of helicopters and gunfire), only without any distinct zest or remarkable way. The closest thing to an exception may be Mark Isham's benign and adequately-handled score.

The hand goes up as Nicolas Cage gets a little deep in "Making the Best Next Thing." Nic Cage dodges computerized obstacles in "Visualizing the Next Move." Is that a giant piece of wagon wheel pasta? "Two Minutes in the Future with Jessica Biel" isn't quite the steamy time travel jaunt the title may lead you to expect.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

As far as special features are concerned, Next gets no audio commentary, no deleted scenes, and no trailer, but four short featurettes.

"Making the Best Next Thing" (18:15) is a perfunctory general production featurette, which provides interview sound bites from key cast and crew members
(no Tamahori, though) that sing the praises of the project and everyone associated with it. There are a few interesting comments on the movie's themes and the demands of an action movie (i.e. stunts), but it's too brisk and promotional to really make an impression.

As its title suggests, "Visualizing the Next Move" (7:45) deals with the film's visual effects, with crew members discussing how certain illusions were conceived and achieved. Those with an aversion to technical features shouldn't go out of their way to watch this piece, but they also needn't skip it; it's short, visually interesting, and not too dry.

"The Next 'Grand Idea'" (6:50) centers on the sequence set at the picturesque Havasupai Indian Reservation. While the spoken focus is on the excitement and challenges of filming along the Grand Canyon, the subtext explains why the middle segment feels a little disjointed from the rest of the movie; it was a last-minute attempt to make Cris and Liz's romance work.

"Two Minutes in the Future with Jessica Biel" (2:25) follows the footsteps of Fox's The Illusionist DVD by devoting a short piece completely to this young supporting actress. Her thoughts on whether she'd want to be able to see her future make it clear she doesn't already, for the comments are unrehearsed, spontaneous, and far from groundbreaking.

The static main menu screen recreates the DVD cover art, which in turn only colorizes the poster art (that none too subtly makes Jessica Biel's chest the focal point). Submenus lack even the short excerpt of score which accompanies the main menu and furthering the basic nature of the DVD is a lack of an insert.

Upon insertion, the disc plays trailers for Transformers and A Mighty Heart. These previews, plus a promo for Blades of Glory, can be viewed as a group from the Special Features menu's Previews listing.

You needn't be a semiotician to notice that, with prominent wristwatch placement, this shot's emphasizing the importance of time in Cris and Liz's relationship. Cris Johnson knows that the world is spinning around him. Cris Johnson knows what's going to happen next. Cris Johnson knew I was going to say that.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For action movie fans, Nic Cage fans, and the sizable portion where those two audiences overlap, Next is worth a rental. For being credited to Philip K. Dick, though, the movie is surprisingly slim on ideas besides an intriguing premise and even that isn't sufficiently explored in a standard genre plot of nameless (uninteresting) villains, obligatory (ill-realized) romance, and calculated conflict. Those looking for some conventional entertainment will find that Next goes down smooth and with no aftertaste, but viewers wanting more will be disappointed by the workmanlike execution that's short on flair. Paramount's lightweight DVD doesn't give us an extraordinary feature presentation or much in the way of bonus features, but that seems befitting this utterly mediocre flick.

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Reviewed September 24, 2007.



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