Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Next. Please.
Speculative fiction writer Philip K. Dick was the mad genius of the genre, pioneering the concept of “inner space” as a storytelling device. The mind was his alien planet, and it was often more unsettling than the environs usually associated with science fiction. It’s no wonder that he’s become a cause celebre since his death in 1982, due in no small part to the success of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it managed to more or less translate his challenges to rigid concepts of reality, and remains one of the greatest films of all time.

The good news is that Blade Runner introduced Dick’s works to a potentially wider audience. The bad news is that subsequent films based on his work usually have little to do with the source material. Next is a case in point. Purportedly based on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man,” Next is actually a poorly conceived action thriller that has absolutely nothing to do with Dick’s original story. That’s not entirely true—in both versions, the protagonist is named Cris, and in both versions, Cris has precognitive powers, but that’s it. Well, there is that mater of golden skin. In the story Cris has golden skin that gives him the ability to seduce others of the opposite sex, and in the movie, Cris (Nicholas Cage) wears a cheap yellow leather jacket, which may explain why Liz (Jessica Biel) is inexplicably drawn to him.

In Next, Nicholas Cage portrays Cris Johnson who, under the stage name of Frank Cadillac, uses his ability to see two minutes into the future (but only where it directly affects him) to do a low rent magic act and supplement his income with low stakes gambling. But he’s haunted by visions of a woman (Jessica Biel) who, for some unexplained reason enables him to see further into the future, but only where it concerns the two of them. So far, so good. Romantic tales have been structured around lesser premises. Still, it raises questions of plausibility.

Plausibility isn’t a major concern of this movie, however. A Russian nuclear device has gone missing, and the FBI has no other way to track it down except to abduct Cris and force him to use his abilities to recover the device before it falls into the wrong hands. The wrong hands in this case are a group of Eurotrash terrorists with no discernible motive or affiliation. It’s not the sort of plot that makes for analysis. In fact, it’s not the sort of plot that holds itself up for anything resembling logic. That would only get in the way of the action.
As an action flick, Next isn’t too bad, in a videogame sort of way. Actually, it’s structured much like a videogame, with every plot development serving to get the protagonist to the next level of play. As a result, romance falls by the wayside, along with international intrigue, lame attempts at social commentary and essentially everything else that has to do with life as we know it. As a trade-off, we’re treated to Rube Goldberg-style landslides, replete with water tanks, SUVs, boulders and sundry debris cascading upon the heroes. We also get an iron-jawed Julianne Moore in an embarrassing action figure performance as the single-minded FBI agent. We get exlosions, bad guys shot from sniper precipices—hell, we even get a nuclear explosion.

What we don’t get is logic, or even an apology for all the whys the movie never addresses. Instead, we find at the end that the entire “plot” of the movie was just another possible outcome. It’s a cheat to be sure, but not surprising. Considering Next went through at least three complete rewrites and various script doctors, it’s a wonder it made it to the screen at all.

As a standard DVD, Next is an alright purchase. The video quality is excellent and the Dolby 5.1 sound is separated seamlessly. The special features are pretty standard fare, consisting of behind the scenes promo films, a feature on the CGI SFX and a pointless interview with Jessica Biel.

There’s nothing really memorable about Next. Like Cris, we see it all coming long before it happens.