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Laramie Movie Scope: Next

Silly, but enjoyable fantasy

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 17, 2007 -- “Next” is a fantasy film that should appeal to older men who dream of acquiring a mysterious power that gives them the ability to win lots of money in Las Vegas and to entice beautiful women young enough to be their daughters into bed. Despite what you may have heard elsewhere, this is not a bad film if you can overlook the basic silliness of the plot. It explores some interesting ideas regarding free will and determinism, and the acting, stunts and visuals are good.

The always interesting Nicholas Cage (“Ghost Rider”) stars as Cris Johnson, who also goes by the stage name of Frank Cadillac in a low-rent Las Vegas magic act. But he has a hidden power to know what is going to happen to him and the people near him in the next two minutes. In fact, he is able to foresee every possibility of every action he might take to affect the future in those next two minutes. As you might expect, in Las Vegas it would be very handy to know what the blackjack dealer is going to give you for your next hand or two, what the next roll of the dice is going to be at the craps table, what number is coming up next at the roulette table and which slot machine is going to pay off next. So why isn't this guy rich? According to the movie, he is “staying under the radar” so as not to attract too much attention from the casino security people, who tend to nab guys suspected of cheating. If he wants to stay under the radar, why is he an entertainer? The movie doesn't address this question.

Since Cris is an entertainer, he attracts the attention of two groups looking to use his abilities. One is the FBI, led by agent Agent Callie Ferris (played by Julianne Moore of “Children of Men”). She thinks that Cage's unique abilities can help stop terrorists bent on setting off an atomic bomb soon in a major city. The other group out to get him is composed of a bunch of vaguely Euro-trash terrorists, who want to kill Cris before he can help the FBI foil their evil plot. These mysterious terrorists seem to have unlimited resources, and an army of people to watch the FBI's every move and counter it. How did they get the bomb into the United States, and how did they get so many people, money and high-tech equipment? The movie doesn't explain this. If the FBI can't find all these terrorists, how can they catch Cris? Another unanswered question.

Cris hooks up with young hottie Elizabeth 'Liz' Cooper (Jessica Biel of “The Illusionist”) and the two are suddenly on the run from the FBI and the terrorists. Cris has somehow looked weeks into the future to foresee his relationship with Elizabeth and he can see far into the future regarding her in other ways. His ability is somehow related to a kind of telepathy as well. He seems to be aware of other people's thoughts in the movie at times, particularly regarding their plans for actions involving him. In one scene, Cris looks directly at a surveillance camera in a casino and seems to know that the security people are planning to grab him. That is not exactly the best way to keep a low profile. His abilities are shown visually in a couple of ways. One way is to show Cris experiencing different possible consequences of his actions in succession, like “Groundhog Day.” He uses this ability to discover the right action to take, and to avoid mistakes, even death. Another way is to show multiple versions of Cris simultaneously exploring different paths in order to find the one that leads to the optimal outcome.

The movie makes an argument for two seemingly contradictory points of view. One is that everything is pre-determined, what is called determinism, or destiny. This is a common point of view for many Hollywood writers and actors who find themselves with little control over their lives, since they are low in the Hollywood pecking order. The other point of view is free will. Cris is able to control his own future, and sometimes those of others, by the choices he makes among the possible futures he sees. The idea of free will is not a popular one in Hollywood these days, but it is championed in this movie. The idea of determinism is expressed in the film as a power that goes beyond Cris or Elizabeth's ability to choose their own future. They were destined to meet, destined to fall in love and their fates were intertwined. Somehow, Cris seems to have loved Elizabeth before they met. Perhaps it is his love for her that breaks the two-minute barrier and allows him to look much farther into their futures than he otherwise can.

While this movie is silly, it also provides some food for thought. The acting by Cage, Biel and Moore is very good. They make the unbelievable almost believable. The visual imagination on display by the filmmakers, led by director Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day”) is also impressive. The filmmakers have made the idea of multiple quantum realities fairly easy to grasp by using some simple illustrative visual cues. There are also some well-staged battle scenes and an unforgettable scramble down a steep mountainside while ducking rolling logs, cars, and other large pieces of equipment. It isn't a good film, the pace is slow for much of the early part of the film, but it is interesting and entertaining enough to warrant a video rental, or viewing at a second run discount theater. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)