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The new Nicolas Cage action-thriller "Next" is about a guy who can see two minutes into the future, a precognitive ability that isn't too hard to believe since audiences for most Cage action-thrillers usually can tell what's going to happen well past the two-minute mark. The predictability here goes hand in hand with a lack of tension because anyone who can see into the future certainly can dodge any fist or bullet. As a shaggy-dog sci-fi tale, "Next" has enough goofiness and action to win average to above-average boxoffice, but it should be a quick payoff.

Despite an outlandish premise, "Next" suffers from being too conventional. Several writers took a crack at adapting a story by legendary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Unfortunately, the result shies away from making its protagonist what he should be -- creepy.

Since age 3, Cris Johnson (Cage) has known he can see into the near future. But only his future, no one else's. He hides his freakishness through his job as a Las Vegas magician: Everyone thinks it's all a trick.

When the movie begins, though, for some unknown reason and despite his deliberate low profile nearly everyone is on to him. Casino security has discovered his uncanny ability to beat the odds. FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) wants to use his talent to prevent a terrorist attack in Los Angeles. Even the terrorists want him dead.

The Vegas police also are after him. When Cris prevents a casino shooting, security guards become confused as to how the gun ended up in Cris' hand. This leads to a demonstration of Cris' extrasensory gifts: He manages to evade a legion of guards, exit the hotel, steal a car and lead the police on a chase, all with the knowledge of everything that will happen next.

He winds up in a chop shop run by an old man played with Columbo-esque rascality by Peter Falk. Callie does track down Cris using a LoJack device within the stolen car and tells him his country needs him to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Los Angeles. Only she doesn't -- Cris decides to leave before they can have this chat.

It's never clear why Cris wouldn't at least try to prevent 8 million deaths. He mutters something about his inability to see far enough into his own future to really help, but this is a lame excuse for a pursuit movie.

What's more, he apparently can see well into the future: He knows he will meet his dream girl, Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel), at a diner one morning around 9. Fortunately for him, the following morning marks the magic moment. After the film's one and only foray into comedy -- for a "meet-cute," he performs five different ways before he gets it right -- Liz offers him a lift to Arizona, completely unaware that she is helping him to flee the FBI.

This leads to the love story, but you wish the filmmaker hadn't bothered. There is little chemistry between the actors, and these characters just don't seem "destined" for each other. If only Liz were less normal. When the movie arrives at its climax in Los Angeles with Liz a hostage and the bomb ready to go off, the film does have one interesting twist in store.

There is little dimension to any roles. Cage, handcuffed by his character's amiability, delivers a performance that is routine verging on dull. Biel is simply a damsel in a mess, alternatively confused and terrorized. Moore is a single-minded bulldog. Meanwhile, to avoid the obvious -- terrorists with Islamic roots -- the baddies are an international bunch with some speaking French!

Director Lee Tamahori delivers action thrills smoothly but leaves no footprint of his own. Tech credits are proficient.

NEXT
Paramount Pictures
Revolution Studios and IEG Virtual Studios present a Saturn Films/Broken Road production
Credits:
Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenwriters: Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, Paul Bernbaum
Screen story by: Gary Goldman
Based on a story by: Philip K. Dick
Producers: Nicolas Cage, Norm Golightly, Todd Garner, Arne L. Schmidt, Graham King
Executive producers: Gary Goldman, Jason Koornick, Benjamin Waisbren
Director of photography: David Tattersall
Production designer: William Sandell
Music: Mark Isham
Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Editor: Christian Wagner
Cast:
Cris Johnson: Nicolas Cage
Callie Ferris: Julianne Moore
Liz: Jessica Biel
Mr. Smith: Thomas Kretschmann
Cavanaugh: Tory Kittles
Roybal: Jose Zuniga
Irv: Peter Falk
Running time -- 97 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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