Friday, May 18, 2012

REVIEW: Next (2007)

SPOILERS afoot here! Beware!

Nicolas Cage is a lot of things. He’s a bad actor, a so-bad-he’s-good actor, a producer of films and an all around odd character in real life. Whatever you can say about him, he is certainly noticeable. And what way to make him MORE noticeable than to put him in a movie where he plays a psychic stage magician on the run from Julianne Moore? This is Next.

Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jessica Biel

I really do like the flashy aesthetic this movie has. Pretty much anything involving Las Vegas is automatically cool. This is no exception. It’s just all about the visual eye candy. The flashy lights, the gaudy buildings, the slick streets, the fast cars…it’s all here in spades, people, with a healthy American scent all over it. This really is a very American movie in the end, with a lot of shots later on of perhaps the most American thing ever, the Arizona desert – truly a majestic sight. Any movie that has people driving through the desert gets at least one brownie point for aesthetic worth. There is a lot to be said for the atmosphere of a film and how the locations chosen affect the viewer’s enjoyment of the whole.

Cage himself is his usual stoic, too-serious self of his latter days – this is the melodramatic try-hard overly serious Cage of Drive Angry, not the silly Vampire’s Kiss-styled Cage of the 80s and 90s. He’s not a good actor and never will be, but where he succeeds is pure passion and energy into what he’s doing. Cage is always an intense guy and even when he can’t emote for shit, you can always tell he is into what he’s doing. He will never purposefully half-ass a performance and he will definitely never sell out. He just loves acting – even if the rest of us have to suffer sometimes. And I think that’s what makes him a respectable actor. In his own weird little way.

Julianne Moore is…well, Julianne Moore, playing the usual overly confident, smug lady cop she has played in other movies. Jessica Biel is probably the weakest link in this thing as she just doesn’t have much of a character other than being eye candy – and she does work as that, but as an actual character she leaves a lot to be desired, mostly just acting as your generic Mary Sue female protagonist with no flaws or personality. Pretty boring.

The story is a Die Hard sort of tale, about terrorists and bombs and what not, except the twist is that Cage’s character can see two minutes into his own future to find out what’s going to happen next. Moore and her people want to capture Cage so they can channel his power to help find the terrorists, only he doesn’t want them to because he doesn’t want to be locked up like a lab rat. He does eventually team up with them when Biel is kidnapped. The whole third act is just a thrill ride, maybe not as good as any Die Hard movie, but close enough, and nail-bitingly exciting in its own right.

The only problem with this movie is actually the reason why I can’t recommend this as a bona-fide good film – it’s not exactly a small issue. One of the recurring plot points in this movie is that Cage’s psychic visions are sometimes presented to us as actual happenings in the film. Like something will happen, but then a few minutes later the screen will flash and Cage will just be sitting there THINKING about whether or not to actually let it happen – the benefits of his psychic foresight, but not exactly a strong filmmaking technique. The first few times it’s OK, as it adds to the humor – like the numerous visions he has about different ways to ask Biel out. That was pretty funny.

But it turns out Biel’s character is some kind of psychic enhancer for him, somehow, so with her he can see even further into the future. This plot point is never properly explained – how is she able to do that to him? And it’s made even worse by the fact that the entire climax, yes, the entire action-fueled, tense climax, all turns out to be part of Cage’s vision. None of it actually happens! This serves, I guess, to show us that Cage has to make the tough choice and leave Biel behind while he goes and saves the city on his own, but still, it’s a pretty damn big cop out. At the end of the day, there simply isn’t much that actually HAPPENS in Next, and that’s where the film fails in the end. It’s just the principle of the whole thing. While this film is entertaining, and quite original, the fact is, not a lot of stuff really transpires in the film – a lot of it is just in Cage’s head.

Next is a fundamentally flawed film that still remains enjoyable in spite of those flaws. Not every movie has to be absolutely spotless, and sometimes a few flaws can make a movie more interesting, as they do here – there wouldn’t be as much to talk about if this was just your average Nicolas Cage action movie. And your mileage will vary on just how much the ending disappoints you – it really just depends how much you like the idea of a lot of it only being in Cage’s mind the whole time. If you can get past that, great; you’ll probably dig it. Otherwise, it’s worth a watch and has a curious enough plot to warrant one. Go see it.

Nicolas Cage told me to tell you that the images here aren't mine. They are copyright of their original owners.