The Thing About the Future
“Here’s the thing about the future,” says Cris (Nicolas Cage), “Every time you look at it, it changes, and that changes everything else.” At once wise and perplexed, Cris is not only talking about his job as a magician named Frank Cadillac, currently working non-crowds at a second-tier Vegas club. Cris is also talking about literally: he sees the future. The parameters of that seeing are very specific: Cris sees just two minutes ahead and only events directly related to him.
Such specificity, as laid out in Next, Lee Tamahori’s translation of a Philip K. Dick story, is alternately goofy and bleak. The film doesn’t try to explain or rationalize its essential trick, but drops you rather perfunctorily into Cris’ multiple dilemmas: he’s got this girl he can’t stop thinking of, and he’s got two serious crews on his tail: the FBI and some Euro-trashy terrorists with a nuclear bomb. It’s never clear how all these pieces fit together, and it doesn’t much matter. Neither does it appear to matter that Cris has Peter Falk stashed away in a warehouse along with some gizmos and snacks: though Falk shows up for a couple of minutes playing a version of Blade’s Whistler, he’s soon disappeared and never heard from again.
Cris’ focus is Liz (Jessica Biel), a parttime teacher at an Indian reservation whom he sees in random-seeming future visions, and who appears to extend his time limit. Her appearances, repeated and cryptic, are set far beyond his usual two minutes, and come with an ethereal soundtrack and female vocals whispering “destiny,” that is, she’s crucial to his personal-development plot (he spends many minutes conjuring how to meet her, how to impress her, how to bed her) and will indeed be caught up into the nuclear bomb threat.
For someone else (say, Denzel Washington in Déjà Vu), this terrorism business might seem de rigueur, an obvious sign of the times. But Cage changes the dynamics of any movie he’s in. Though these movies (The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider) have been exceeding strange of late they all benefit from his presence. Here again, Cage’s weird and endearing performance expands Next‘s B-movie cheesiness: twitchy and sweet, scowling and enchanting, Cris understands and manipulates his power, but he’s never smug or very serene about it. He’s able to dodge bullets, speed through freeway traffic, and manipulate his way around all manner of crashing vehicles and rocks crashing down into the Grand Canyon, of all places.
But Cris is not an action hero in the usual sense. Neither is he especially thrilled with his special gift: he’s learned to handle it, is even impressively adept with it, but he’s not looking to save the world. He’s presented here in an oddly philosophical aspect: he waxes on about magic and fate, but he’s quite comfortable changing the future whenever he must—preventing murders about to occur right in front of him, approaching Liz in a way that doesn’t have her shutting him down on word one (“Your luck is about to change,” he tells her. “What are you, a leprechaun?” she asks, her smile suggesting this is not a bad thing). Best, he sees time in a refreshingly bendy way. Nothing is set, except maybe his determination to meet Liz.
Cris (NICOLAS CAGE) is a man with special cognitive abilities who is brought in to help the FBI thwart a nuclear terrorist threat.
By contrast, the future is all up in the air for excessively serious fed Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore). She believes he can help her find the terrorists before they strike, and even though the clock is obviously ticking, her boss gives her “five days.” Why, we’ll never know, but she and Agent Cavanaugh (Tory Kittles) track Cris with an array of surveillance tech and weaponry at their disposal. Still, they’re always a step behind, as he maneuvers within his two-minute window with a precision that’s both dogged and droll (Cage finds moments of silent-filmic comedic grace in Cris’ shenanigans). Callie’s not so much fun, her affect gloomy and flat, Moore’s voice pressed down an octave. Her initial “plan” for trapping Cris involves convincing Liz that her new boyfriend is a “delusional sociopath.” Liz’s repetition of the phrase grants Biel (not known for her timing) a moment of her own comic delicacy: looking into Cris’ eyes, she makes a choice to believe one way rather than the other, crazy and convoluted and loony-tunesy as it seems.
When at last Callie catches up to Cris, she fulfills all odious government-rep expectations, strapping him into a chair borrowed from A Clockwork Orange, complete with shiny metal eyelid-propper-uppers. Pacing in a dark pantsuit, she makes him watch TV news until he comes across some even that will affect him personally, with the idea that this event, whatever it is, will be the one that leads to the terrorists (just how the FBI means to work around the two-minute limit is, again, not elucidated).
The inevitable showdown with the terrorists occasions another spectacular spectacular, as Cris leads the FBI shooters to locate the bomb and Liz (kidnapped, but of course, and her hair is always perfect, whatever the chaos). Tall, long-haired and wearing street clothes, he walks as if in another dimension, apart from the armored up federal shooters. He directs their fire with such bizarre composure that the action sequence turns into near self-parody. Soon Cris is splitting himself off into multiple selves in multiple two-minutes intervals, so he can scout the various floors of the terrorists’ warehouse hideout. Call it crazy and delusional and unconvincing. Still, Cage, so perverse and charismatic, makes the trick work.