Hmm, maybe next time …

2007-02-01 00:00

BEING able to see into the future is a trusty old device with which to drive science fiction stories. Regardless of logic, it appeals because of the illusion of control it gives the viewer and with it the imagined possibility of a perfect world in which destiny is suborned to human will.

Next is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, but infinitely less successful than the brilliant Blade Runner and the overblown yet intriguing Tom Cruise showpiece Minority Report. The setting, however, is not some future dystopia or Big Brother totalitarian nightmare, but present-day California.

Nicolas Cage is a small-time illusionist (Cris Johnson) who plays his tricks in a sleazy Las Vegas joint. His talent is real, though, and in other sci-fi movies he'd be called a pre-cog - someone who can see the future. Problem is, he can only see two minutes ahead. For unexplained reasons, he doesn't use his gift to get rich or powerful, but to play out a comic routine to sceptical drunks and pick up small change at the casinos.

For more unexplained reasons, the FBI, in the form of agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), wants to enlist him to find a nuclear bomb. How they got on to him isn't clear. The terrorists, whose cause is never revealed, also want him, although how they even know he exists is equally mysterious. Cris doesn't want to help save eight million people. He doesn't say why. What he does want is to find a woman he sees in his future (Jessica Biel), although why in her case he sees further than two minutes ahead is a mystery.

With director Lee Tamahori at the helm, it's no surprise that the emphasis is on action, real or anticipated. But it isn't compelling enough to skip over the chasms in the plot, never mind hold together the conundrums inherent in steering the course of the future. The constant flash-forwards merge into the present and by the time the climax comes, you feel cheated by too many imagined events and too little tangible story reality.

Next is less fascinated by the potential for mind games than caught up in the need to propel the action to an explosive conclusion, and so loses the dark appeal of Philip K. Dick's fictional universe.

***

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