With Next, Lee Tamahori (The Edge, Along Came a Spider, Die Another Day) joins an A-list of directors -- Ridley Scott with Blade Runner; Paul Verhoeven with Total Recall; Steven Spielberg with Minority Report; John Woo with Paycheck and Richard Linklater with A Scanner Darkly -- who have mined the novels and short stories of the prolific Philip K Dick for cinematic material.
The Golden Man, in the original, is typical of Dick's dark, often twisted vision and of his bedrock belief that there is no 'reality' as such -- rather, there are alternative realities, and the evolved among us get to pick and chose which one we will live through.
The original short story tells of a government effort to weed out the abnormal ones among us. The agents snare Cris, who has the ability to see every possible outcome of each action, and chose which outcome he wants. The protagonist has another skill -- a golden hue so fetching, he can seduce any woman he sets out to. He uses this ability on the fiancée of the government agent who trapped him, seduces her, gets her to free him, impregnates her, and escapes.
From that story, director Tamahori and writers Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum take just two elements: the name Cris for the protagonist played by Nicholas Cage, and the character's ability to see far enough into the future (in the case of the film, two minutes; there is also the additional proviso that he can see only things that directly affect him) and, by his actions in the present, to shape that future into what he wants it to be.
Those powers are set out early in two scenes. Cage hides his precognitive light under the bushel of a small-time magician and card sharp; he uses his skill to get away from the security staff of a casino when his winning streak arouses suspicion.
The second scene is where he frequents a particular café because his vision tells him he will meet his love interest there. Jessica Biel turns up on cue; Cage considers and rejects two alternative approaches before hitting on the one that will work.
It's a promising beginning, arousing anticipation of what comes next in Next. Trouble is, nothing extraordinary does.
The plot premise is that a nasty has hidden a nuclear device someplace in Los Angeles. The FBI is clueless -- all except Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), who believes in the face of her superiors' skepticism that Cris, with his precognitive powers, will provide the solution. (How a bloke who can see just two minutes into the future is supposed to stop a nuclear device from going off is one of those questions best left unasked).
So there's this thing out there someplace, ticking, while Moore and Cage play tag with the latter always two minutes ahead of the agent. And when that game gets boring, they team up and go hunting for the nasty and his bomb. Los Angeles is still here, still intact, so we know how it all turns out.
There's a lot of action in the form of chases, an avalanche, bullets Cris dodges because he can see them coming before they have been fired, and plenty of things that go boom. There's also a lot of alternate reality stuff -- Cris goes in one direction, sees what is going to happen, takes his move back and goes on another tack.
A particularly cruel critic once wrote of a box office turkey: "This film has elusive appeal; it eludes everyone who saw it."
Next is not quite that bad, but it comes close; there is a feeling of painting by numbers to the story progression. The overall feel is slick, thanks largely to cinematographer David Tattersall and editor Christian Wagner.
Overall, though, Next makes a hash of the original material, to no discernible purpose. And in the process, it wastes two high-quality talents (Moore and Cage).