Hollywood’s track record in adapting Philip K. Dick’s science-fiction stories is spotty at best, but one thing holds true: The ideas are always nifty. “Next,” based on Dick’s “The Golden Man,” is the latest adaptation, and while it’s no “Minority Report” or “Blade Runner,” at least it’s no “Impostor” or “Paycheck,” either.
The gimmick: Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) can see the future — but only his own, personal future, and only two minutes ahead. That eliminates the stock market and sports betting scenarios, but it does let him make a decent living as a two-bit magician in a seedy Las Vegas nightclub, “guessing” where people are from because he’s seen into an alternate future where he asks them. To supplement his income, he plays blackjack a lot, which he excels at for obvious reasons.
“Every time you look at the future, it changes — because you looked at it,” he tells us in a voice-over. The way it works is, he sees all the possible two-minute futures — the one where he plays this slot machine, or that one, or that one, or that one, and so forth — sees all the outcomes, and then acts on the best one. That means he can try out various pick-up lines with women, too, and go with the one that produces the most favorable results. He’s had this gift/curse all his life, so he’s gotten pretty good at it.
The FBI has noticed Cris’ abilities (don’t ask me how), and Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) wants to use him to find a stolen nuclear bomb before terrorists can deploy it. Cris avoids her, though, for two reasons. One, unless the bomb is going off nearby and in the next two minutes, he can’t help. Two, once you let the government know you can see the future, they’ll never leave you alone.
In the midst of getting out of town to avoid the Feds, Cris meets Liz (Jessica Biel), a beautiful woman who produces a strange anomaly with his psychic abilities: For some reason, when it relates to her, he can see much further into the future than just two minutes. In fact, he saw her enter this diner days ago, and has been wondering why ever since.
They quickly become friends, on the way to the inevitable romance (the very prominent 18-year age difference notwithstanding), and take off in her car for Flagstaff. The FBI is on their tail, and so are the terrorists who have the nuclear device. They’ve caught wind of the Feds’ pursuit of Cris and figure he must know something incriminating about them and hence should be killed. But it’s hard to kill a guy who can foresee (and thus prevent) his death.
I don’t buy Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel as a couple even for a second, nor does it make any sense for Liz to trust Cris so immediately and so thoroughly that she’d embark on a road trip with him. On the FBI side, while I know Julianne Moore has played a Fed before (in “Hannibal”), she seems to have lost some of her mojo since then. All of her tough-gal lines (“You’re still alive. Let’s try to keep it that way”) sound amusingly false, like a kid playing cops and robbers.
Writer Gary Goldman (who scripted “Total Recall” and executive-produced “Minority Report”) was joined by Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum on the script, which has some weird loose ends. Why does Cris live in a garage with an old man played by Peter Falk? How does everyone wind up in L.A. for the finale when all the preceding action has been in Vegas and near the Grand Canyon? I suspect there are deleted scenes that explain some of this.
The director, Lee Tamahori, has mostly recently made “XXX: State of the Union” and “Die Another Day,” which suggests he has a fondness for bombastic, high-tech silliness. While there’s some of that here — gotta love Cris dodging an avalanche of debris as it rolls down a hillside toward him — it’s primarily just a fun, mind-bending story, not too brainy but not too stupid, either. You might predict the final twist, but probably not more than two minutes before it happens.
B- (1 hr., 36 min.; )