The latest in a long line of films to feature the concept of precognition, 'Next' structures its entire premise around a character who can "see" two minutes into the future and is constantly altering it. While I'm generally inclined to view such plot devices as something of a cheat, I was optimistic going into 'Next,' if only for the fact that it's based on the short story "The Golden Man" by sci-fi visionary Philip K. Dick ('Blade Runner,' 'Total Recall').
To be sure, the first few minutes of the film suggest some intriguing possibilities. Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is the guy who can "see" up to two minutes into the future, but unlike the superhero types most commonly associated with such powers, Cris has resigned himself to playing the seedy Las Vegas circuit as his alter-ego, lame magician/psychic Frank Cadillac, only surviving by peering far enough ahead to scam whatever he needs to survive (usually from a quick trip to the slot machine).
From that quick set-up, 'Next' veers off into two parallel plotlines. Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) has been tracking Cris for months, convinced that his psychic gifts can help her prevent a terrorist plot to blow up most of the West Coast. Meanwhile, Cris has begun seeing visions of the beautiful Elizabeth Cooper (Jessica Biel), far beyond his standard two minutes into the future, without any explanation. Believing Liz to be his romantic destiny, Cris manipulates his way into her good graces by staking her out at a local diner. After a truly creepy meet-cute, she runs off with him on a road adventure that will ultimately put all of the film's characters on a collision course with potentially deadly consequences.
Unfortunately, despite the interesting set-up, neither of the film's two storylines work particularly well. First off, the terrorist/thriller stuff is utterly bland and predictable. Director Lee Tamahori ('Die Another Day') and screenwriter Gary Goldman (a frequent Dick adapter who also penned 'Total Recall' and 'Minority Report') give the villains behind the plot scarcely any screentime, seemingly recognizing them as a mere plot contrivance. Instead, what we do get are many scenes featuring Cage and Moore squaring off over Big Grand Ideas like fate, responsibility, and personal sacrifice. Admittedly, it's a noble enough attempt to distill Dick's often existential (and largely unfilmable) narrative concepts through an action movie template, but unlike with his earlier Dick adaptations for 'Recall' and 'Report,' Goldman seems to have forgotten all the action in 'Next.'
The love story between Cris and Liz also falls painfully flat. With his greasy hair, bug eyes and eye-rolling magic trick come-ons, Cage seems as likely a love interest for Biel as Hannibal Lecter. (Seriously, at one point he turns a napkin into a rose, says "I love you," and -- poof! -- she melts instantly.) As for the one-time '7th Heaven' star and frequent Maxim cover girl, she must have the greatest agent in Hollywood, because however likable she may be (and, yes, almost impossibly beautiful), I have yet to see her give a performance of more than one-note range.
The most frustrating aspect of 'Next,' however, is the arbitrary nature of Cris' precognitions. It is simply an insult to the audience's intelligence that it's never explained whether Cris can control his visions by calling them up at will, or if they just "happen" to him without warning. This becomes such a convenient lie-by-omission that it ultimately turns the entire film into narrative Swiss cheese. It's no fun to play along (let alone muster up any empathy for the characters) if we don't know what the rules of the game are, but 'Next' is too lazy to care.
Despite all of these issues, the movie could still have paid off thematically if it had a really great, shocking twist ending that threw everything that came before it into a new light, but alas, 'Next' has one of the most deflating non-climaxes I've seen in a major movie in years. I won't spoil it, but beyond getting simple lip service, none of the fascinating ideas in Dick's original story are explored. What is the responsibility that comes with an extraordinary gift like Cris'? Can romantic love truly be genuine, or is it just a product of our own idealized dreams? And if you could see into future, should you change it? As intriguing as these questions are, 'Next' doesn't attempt to answer a single one. Instead, it leaves everything open-ended, in yet another of those shameless Hollywood "resolutions" that seem more like a set-up for a sequel than a satisfying, cohesive conclusion.
'Next' is probably still passable as a Saturday night rental if you go in expecting little, but for a film that could have been so much more, it's hard to rank this one as anything more than a disappointment.
'Next' is o ne of the first Blu-ray titles from Paramount since they've returned to the format following the demise of HD DVD. However, expectations are not particularly high, if only because we've already seen the old HD DVD version, so there are few surprises here. This is again an 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 presentation that certainly looks good, but falls short of the best high-def releases I've seen.
Among the transfer's issues are some fluctuating black levels, some overly hot contrast that white-washes detail at times, and some obviously oversaturated colors, which result in often articial and waxy-looking fleshtones. Perhaps most distractingly, 'Next' features some of the most cheap-looking CGI and rear-projection I've seen in a major studio picture in years, and these moments in particular look washed out and flat.
Despite such unevenness, 'Next' is not as bad as it may sound. There's still a good deal of depth and texture to the image, with close-ups in particular delivering the kind of striking high-def found in better transfers. Sharpness is also quite good, with only rare instances of softness, and no apparent edge enhancement. Finally, typical of a fresh theatrical title, the source is pristine, with nary a blemish to be found. Sure, I wish 'Next' had been more consistently impressive, but it's still pretty good overall.
Paramount has ditched the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (48kHz/24-bit) from the HD DVD version of 'Next' for an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) version on the Blu-ray. It remains a solid mix, with no major differences between the mixes that really stand out. (Note there are also Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround tracks at 768kbps provided in English, French, and Spanish.)
Although the film itself alternates between action and the gooey romantic stuff, it's fairly consistent in delivering sustained envelopment. Bullets and explosions fill up the rears nicely, and Mark Isham's surprisingly restrained, new-agey score bleeds nicely to every channel. As a good portion of the film takes place on the road, minor ambiance is nicely done, with location and natural sounds getting prominent placement in the surrounds. Dynamics are also solid, with strong if not couch-shaking low bass, adding a clean, defined sound to the rest of the spectrum. Dialogue is also well-balanced in the mix, so I had no volume issues.
'Next' hits Blu-ray intact with the same extras as the previous HD DVD. It's a fairly slim package, though all of the included supplements look terrific in full 1080p/VC-1 video. (Optional English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are also provided.)
Intriguing in concept, 'Next' is unfortunately a problematic thriller that fails on just about every level. That doesn't mean it isn't an interesting failure, but set your expectations accordingly. As one of Paramount's initial wave of Blu-ray comeback releases, this one delivers the goods exactly as the HD DVD did, with above-average audio and video, plus a slim (but spiffy-looking) supplements package. 'Next' is hardly a must-own, but it may be worth a rent for sci-fi fans.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.