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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Extra Sensory Prestidigitation
by John P. McCarthy

Paranormal improbability drives Next -- a mash-up of sci-fi action-thriller and romance adapted from a Philip K. Dick story and starring Nicolas Cage. To ensure maximum pleasure, it's best not to ask too many questions about what transpires.  

In that same spirit, this critic won't spoil the experience by offering many answers. Truth be told, full illumination is beyond my ken, since there are a few lingering sources of consternation. One thing's for sure, it doesn't take a doctorate in Quantum Physics to realize when filmmakers haven't figured out what kind of story they're trickery is serving. That's not unusual, so the only issue is whether you choose to play their shell game.

Being a fan of Cage helps. If you fancy Jessica Biel you'll be rooting for the romantic piece of the movie to work; and viewers who find Julianne Moore plausible when she portrays a tough-as-nails law enforcement officer will hang in longer than most.

Cage is Cris Johnson, a Las Vegas magician with the stage name Frank Cadillac. On top of being proficient at lounge-worthy illusions, Johnson has paranormal powers. He's a clairvoyant with the ability to see into the future, but only two minutes into it and only concerning events directly linked to him.

An exception to this rule involves a comely woman (Biel) whom he predicts he'll meet in a certain coffee shop at a certain time of day. Not only is she destined to be the love of his life, his powers are enhanced when she's in close proximity: he can project himself further ahead in time.

That takes care of the science-fiction and romance. The action-thriller dimension might have been lifted out of 24. Terrorists plan to use a stolen Russian nuclear bomb to kill millions of Americans. We're given few details about this scheme and the motivations behind it. It's supposedly enough that Moore's FBI agent has gotten wind of Johnson's special abilities and believes he can help avert the slaughter of innocents.

He and his gal meet cute in the diner and then drive out of Vegas heading toward Flagstaff via the Grand Canyon. The FBI and the ruthless terrorists give chase eventually. Somehow the baddies also know about Johnson's abilities and are trying to eliminate him before he derails their plan. Naturally he's one step ahead of everyone -- to the extent he can dodge bullets -- though it's not clear how he'll be able to prevent catastrophe. Further plot recitation might reveal too much, although bringing your crystal ball into the multiplex won't be necessary.

There's nothing remarkable about the special effects in Next. It qualifies as a relatively smart popcorn picture courtesy of Dick's premise, even if director Lee Tamahori's treatment seems skittish or overconfident, take your pick. There's some overlap with last year's Denzel Washington picture Déjà Vu. That time-bending thriller had stylistic verve and a real-crime center however.

Cage looks mummified in certain shots and his hair length changes mid-scene (no, it can't be attributed to time travel). The movie has more in common with Ghost Rider, but fond recollections of his engrossing Oscar-winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas are inevitable. Moore deserves credit for giving it her all as the barking Fed who's so confident you'd think she was the one with ESP.

Adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories have done well at the box-office and some have garnered critical praise. Minority Report, Total Recall, Blade Runner and, most recently, A Scanner Darkly come to mind. Reading the tea leaves, I predict viewers will be split down the middle. Some will enjoy Next and the same number will be annoyed -- too busy scratching their heads to relax and have a good time.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of violent action, and some language.) 

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