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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Next

When I was a kid my sisters and I would drive our mother mad by sitting in the back of the car and directing her to every fast food restaurant we saw as she motored along the freeway in LA. That’s right. I’m from the Big City, far from the verdant mountains of Vermont, and, yes, that makes me a Flatlander, but that’s not part of this story, so ignore that for another time. Anyway, she’d drive along and we’d scream out for every place that offered unhealthy food and the promise of milk shakes or French fries, but we could never agree on which of these castles of carbohydrates was best. Naturally, we would start this mantra about five minutes after leaving our driveway at home, regardless of whether we had eaten breakfast or lunch a minute or an hour before. Eventually she would get sick of our backseat bickering over which greasy cesspool we could all settle on and she’d give us her usual ultimatum “We’re going to what’s Next or Nothing at all!” You always could tell by the tone of her voice that the “N”s in “Next” or “Nothing” were capitalized even if they were spoken and not written down. Amazingly, we always chose what was Next and we were never disappointed. Whatever it turned out to be it had enough grease to satisfy a pack of pre-teen girls. But that was many years ago, and I should have known that by now we were way past due for “Next” to crap out at least once, and so it has. If only I had listened to my dearly departed Mama’s words just one more time when I showed up at the Essex Cinemas and saw that Next was on the marquee. Sometimes it really is better to chose “Nothing at all” when given Mama’s challenge.

I hate to say anything disparaging about a Nicolas Cage movie. You see, as much as I try to forget it, I think I may have been married to Nic briefly a few years ago, but I’m not sure. I wandered away from home and ran out of my medication while on a vacation in Vegas and the next thing I remember is waking up at a suite at Caesar’s Palace, attached to an e-meter, in bed with a scary looking guy who was either Nicolas Cage or Droopy Dawg, with an “I Dianetics” tattoo on my left butt cheek. This guy kept calling me “Lisa Marie” and screaming for me to come back with him to Graceland of all places, but I quickly got dressed and ran out into the night instead. Fortunately, I eventually got my prescriptions refilled and have been fine ever since, but on the off-chance it really was Nicolas Cage, I feel like I owe him a little somethin’ somethin’ for walking out on him like that. Oh, and if anyone is interested, I now Diabetics, for what it’s worth.

Maybe it’s Nic’s broken heart, but
Next is like his third in a trifecta of suckfest movies (Ghost Rider; The Wicker Man) in this past year. I’m beginning to think he is as discriminating with his scripts as Paris Hilton is with her virtue. They both will say ‘yes’ to just about anything for the right price. Next is a perfect example of this.

Next is about a Vegas magician named Cris Johnson aka Frank Cadillac (Cage), who has the unique ability to see what is going on two minutes ahead in his own life. That doesn’t sound like much, but it works out well if you are gambling and can predict what cards will be coming up next or if you want to amaze an audience with mind-reading tricks by knowing the answers to their questions before they’ve even asked them, but exactly how that is supposed to be of great use to the nation doesn’t make any sense from the get-go, which is why this movie flounders immediately.

FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore; Children of Men) is determined to get Johnson to help her track down a terrorist group who the Bureau knows has smuggled a nuclear warhead into the US. They just don’t know where or when the group plans to detonate it, and she thinks Cris can tell them. How that can happen if he only knows stuff two minutes ahead and about himself is anybody’s guess, but that doesn’t dissuade her, no matter how hard he tries to say no. And you just know how well saying no to the FBI flies.

What follows is a standard chase “thriller” with things blowing up, people getting shot and shot at (with apparently the worst aiming agents in history). Thrown into the mix for absolutely no apparent reason are the terrorists, who decide that if the FBI wants Cris then they should be after
him as well. So they spend what seems like forever NOT shooting him even though they have ample opportunity to do so. Instead, they just hang around in a stakeout that looks like it is camped right next to where the FBI is planted, with everybody zeroed in on the motel that Cris and Liz (Jessica Biel (Home of the Brave), a woman who offered him a ride earlier in the day, are spending the night. Is it so hard to simply go up to the door and knock? Or why not just blow up the motel? They (the FBI and the terrorists) seem open to blowing up everything else. Perhaps they are just being diplomatic about not wanting to kill the innocent Liz. After all, knowing director Lee Tamahori (xXx: State of the Union) as a sensitive filmmaker , it is easy to imagine he would not want to send the message that any gorgeous young woman from Vegas who would pick up a stranger, offer him a ride out of state, and then sleep with him only hours after meeting him deserves to be thought of as anything less than saintly, and it would be immoral, even in an action movie, to blow up a saint.

By the time this silliness all ends it has ignored its own premise more than once and the whole
second half of the film is revealed to be a “vision” of things that Cris sees as his possible future if he doesn’t change it. What he needs to do is change scriptwriters because most of the story he “foresees” is nothing he would be privy to and includes scenes of people and events out of the realm of his own life and obviously it covers a whole lot longer than the two minutes to come, so what is the point of buying into the original foundation of the script presented from the beginning? In other words, the ending tells us that what we’ve been watching is a steaming pile of crap and isn’t what “really happened” in this story at all. I hate that. It’s almost as awful as being married to Nicolas Cage, if I remember correctly.

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