Story Highlights• Review: "Next" plays with time, goes nowhere
• Film stars Nicolas Cage as man who can see into future
• Cage character has to stop plot to blow up Los Angeles
By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- Even when we haven't seen an action movie before, we've seen it before.
Case in point: "Next."
A Vegas showman blessed with the power of precognition, enlisted to foil a terrorist bomb plot? It's "Deja Vu" all over again. Unfortunately, without Denzel Washington.
Nicolas Cage is Frank Cadillac -- but only for five minutes. Tragically, he jettisons this fine and fitting stage name in favor of the eminently forgettable Cris Johnson, thereby signaling that this will be a relatively subdued Cage performance.
Frank/Cris is a magician hiding his very real but frustratingly circumscribed extra-sensory powers in plain sight. If he imagines he's escaped detection, that's probably because his gift only stretches two minutes into the future (except, of course, when it's convenient for the screenwriters to allow otherwise). Plus, he doesn't get much: a sneak peek at his next big scene, maybe some permutations, but no bigger picture.
Still, a little foreknowledge can go a long way in Las Vegas -- at least until tough FBI agent Callie (Julianne Moore) starts chasing his shadow. Someone (suspiciously French-speaking!) has smuggled a nuclear weapon into L.A. and she wants Cris to save southern California.
In what must constitute something of a new low even for cynical action-movie types, he decides to forego that chore and chat up Jessica Biel instead. (It doesn't make his decision easier to stomach that the scene with Biel -- easily the wittiest in the movie -- is ripped straight from "Groundhog Day.")
Precious little of this has anything to do with Philip K. Dick's short story "The Golden Man," the film's alleged source material, and if the marketing men want to claim that connection then they had best be prepared for unfavorable "Paycheck" comparisons. (Could this be the worst Dick adaptation yet? Unconvincing CGI effects, crummy story, lousy performances ... it's got to be a contender.)
In fairness, "Next" attempts to put a spin on such hoary melodramatic cliches as the blonde in peril (strapped to a chair and wired to explosives) and the car chase (with an oncoming train cutting off the pursuers). In one scene, Cage makes like Buster Keaton, escaping from a motel by flinging himself down the Grand Canyon in front of a rockslide.
But wait, there's more!
Cris is also like a human TiVo. One of his party pieces is zapping the cable stations, repeating the next line before it's spoken. And that's not the half of it. At times, he stops, fast-forwards and rewinds the "Next" plot itself in his mind, even opting for alternate scenes while he's at it. (Buster Keaton did all this, too, in "Sherlock Jr.", but that's another story.)
Unfortunately, these twists in "Next" don't do much for the film. All this time-shifting would be a lot more fun if we had the remote. It might even make a good videogame. But as a movie, "Next" soon becomes an exercise in futility. It keeps stumbling down blind alleys and doubling back on itself to start over. That may or may not be a legitimate expression of the postmodern condition, but it would help if there was something or someone here we could believe in.
As it is, director Lee Tamahori's film comes within a whimper of blowing up Hollywood. Given the quality of "Next," that result may have been welcome.
"Next" is rated PG-13 and runs 96 minutes.
Nicolas Cage plays a Vegas showman who can see the future in "Next." He's not the only one who knew what was coming in the film.
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