Monday, 14 March 2016

Archival Review: Next (2007)

Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum
Cast: Nicolas Cage (as Cris Johnson); Julianne Moore (as Callie Ferris); Jessica Biel (as Liz Cooper); Thomas Kretschmann (as Mr. Smith); Tory Kittles (as Cavanaugh)

Unfortunately the site that I wrote for, Videotape Swapshop, is no more. This is sad for me having enjoyed writing reviews for the site, but it also means that there'll be links to reviews from that site which are now dead. I do however have all the reviews I ever written for them, god willing, that can be reposted. The following was supposed to be part of an ongoing series reviewing every Nicolas Cage film (yet) made; instead of rewriting it, like I will do for all the other reviews, I'll leave it in its original form and only add additional notes for any context that might be missing transferring it to this site. I will not add any notes on whether these films are "abstract" either, only with some of them possibly being covered properly for this blog in the future in a new piece.

As for whether I should continue reviewing every Nicolas Cage film ever made, I may continue it on this blog as an additional feature even if it proved at points with some of the films watched to be painful. As much as Cage is one of my favourite actors, the reason why the review series was started, I realise now that like many actors his filmography is far from perfect.

I find myself stuck with trying to write about Next. I wonder why it was ever made in the first place in fact, another in a long list of failed Philip K. Dick adaptations where the comedic punch line is that, beyond the central premise, the adaptations are said to be so far removed from the novels and stories that its laughable to make comparisons. Blade Runner (1982) is that immense exception as most have vanished into obscurity, the only faithful take coming from indie wunderkind Richard Linklater with the strange, rotoscoped A Scanner Darkly (2006). Of course within the recent year or so Dick has had a small resurgence when Amazon Prime decided to make an original programme for its site based on The Man In The High Castle; whether it could succeed in bringing Philip K. Dick into the mainstream again is unknown, but it will immediately have more success than Next, a failure if there ever was one in the Nicolas Cage filmography as well.

Playing Frank Cadillac aka. Cris Johnson, Nicolas Cage is a Las Vegas magician who can see exactly two minutes into the future, able to use it to win modest sums of money and dodge punches before they're thrown. When he is in-avertedly caught doing something suspicious at a casino and manages to flee from the security in a ludicrous and random car chase, it catches the attention of FBI Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) who wants to use his psychic powers to find a terrorist group and the nuclear bomb they've snuck into US soil. Cadillac is more concerned with a mysterious woman who, when she is central in his mind, allows him to see further in time, spending his time in a cafe awaiting the day he finally meets her, a woman who teaches on an Indian reservation called Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel). Unfortunately with both the FBI and the terrorists themselves after him Cadillac effectively puts Liz in danger and will have to rely on his psychic gift to protect her and save the world.

If there is anything of good in Next it's that it does try to be clever with Cadillac's ability to see in the future. A lot of wrong footing takes place with an incident happening only for the film to go back in time and for it to reveal that it was a precognition, something that will feel like a cheat for many but for me actually made the film vaguely interesting. This is definitely the case with the ending, which could feel like an utter cop-out, but was fun. There's even some moments of inspiration such as Cadillac trying out various pick up lines to greet Liz only for all of them to fail and having to try something much different, or when very later on he has to find where the terrorists are by literally splitting into duplicates to follow each route.  In the perfect world this could've easily made the film great, even as a silly action sci-fi, if it had a good backbone behind it.

Unfortunately, as the last paragraph warned of, an inspired idea cannot save a film if the rest is so badly compromised. Over ninety minutes the rest is a terrible, bland waste where the first warnings of its failings are when he has to do an opening monologue over himself doing things to explain the premise1. Despite critical acclaim for Once Were Warriors (1994) in his native New Zealand, Tamahori does sadly hold the mantle of the director of the worse James Bond film so far made, Die Another Day (2002), although I suspect that was as much compromise from the producers that lead to the disaster it was. Next is just as bland, barring its clever use of its premise a complete and utter waste of time. You can imagine a more entertaining Cannon Pictures adaptation from the eighties which would run with the premise and its comically Euro trash villains, but made in 2007 the result is un-dynamic and drab.

Probably the most ludicrous aspect of the film alongside some of the most dreadful CGI effects I've seen in a while, including a train, is the cast it has. Biel and Cage have some charisma, but Moore really does feel like a sore thumb amongst the trio, to the point you could've helped the film out if you excised her scenes and added more drama in her place. In a world where Cage's ability is under suspicion without context for others to believe her, you wouldn't follow her beliefs to pursue Cadillac if you were a senior member of the FBI, not only wasting man power and money but leading to potential embarrass and cheap jokes likes for those in the US military who thought they could weaponize psychic powers by killing goats through the power of staring2. That the only way his power can be of any use is through Liz Cooper being a deus ex machina makes Special Agent Callie Ferris not only too big in her britches with her orders but useless.

The film feels too brisk in plotting to the point that its twist ending is far from being an embarrassment to end all embarrassments but a relief in its cheesiness. So much in the film is lacking of vitality that this review is exceptionally short without padding it like I have [, with this standing]3 up as another of the worse Cage films I've covered4, not technically incompetent but bad in its average nature and waste of existence. Like a lot of action and sci-fi films of its ilk, Philip K. Dick adaptations or not, it's so mediocre one finds difficulty in writing anything about it.

1. One of the more odder discoveries of the Nicolas Cage Project as it was originally called was how many of his films rely on him giving voiceover during introductions to his characters' lives. He has a great voice, for the screen and for radio, but these voiceovers appeared in a lot of bland films I covered and proved to be a warning of the staleness of the final film baring a few exceptions (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)) where the monologue given to him had more spark to them.

2. Unfortunately, like for many amateur and professional writers of film reviews, you read some of the jokes you originally wrote and cringe with embarrassment at how leaden they are. Expect some really bloated sentences from some of these reviews as much as some vaguely interesting insights, the former something I had mostly excised in my reviews over the years but occasionally appearing in clumsy references like this.

3. The review hadn't been completely checked over when Videotape Swapshop sadly ended, so some grammatical errors had to be dealt with without compromising the original text.

4. Unfortunately there'll be some terrible films being brought up as I post these old reviews and maybe cover more of them anew. Cage is a great actors, as I'll defend in this reviews, better than the films themselves in many cases, but the post Wicker Man material is going to exhibit a lot of pain on my part...

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