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[rating:0]
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel

I have seen worse movies than “Next.” I am certain of this. Give me time and I’ll be able to remember one.

As a note, I sat in the screening jotting occasional observations in my notebook for the subsequent review. Halfway through, my companion seized the pad and pen from me and scribbled her own note. No one has done this before. When I got home and found the right page, it said, “This movie sucks it.”

She should have this gig.

The direction, from Lee Tamahori (“Mullholland Falls,” “Die Another Day,” “xXx: State of the Union,”) is competent, and the score is appropriately bombastic. Nicolas Cage is terrible, and so is Julianne Moore. Jessica Biel does fine, but all she’s asked to do is be sweet, pretty, clueless and, at the right time, terrified. Cage should not be counted as an actor anymore. He’s always had a tendency to be a bit of a ham, but now he also has a demonstrable inability to recognize a crappy, crappy script and steer clear of it. He’s simply a hack whose best days are behind him, and those days weren’t good enough to forgive crap like this, which makes even “Ghost Rider” look half-watchable.

The movie is based on something by Philip K. Dick, and that may be part of the source of the unbelievably unbelievability of this thing. Even good movies very loosely adapted from Dick’s work tend to feel like they take place in a world bearing only superficial resemblance to ours. This failure is no exception — no one in this film acts like people in the real world, no motivation makes sense (or is even offered, in many cases). It’s a parallel universe, like where all those Dr. Seuss characters live. Let’s call this one Stupid World.

The premise of “Next” is beaten over the audience’s heads in the first few minutes. First, cut-rate Vegas magician “Frank Cadillac” voice-overs to tell us the exact parameters of his magic powers: He can see up to two minutes into the future, but only his own future — things that will affect him directly. Such as the hopped-up casino gunman he disarms after getting a flash that the guy’s about to shoot up the joint.

The second part of the story is thudded onto us moments later. Julianne Moore is setting fire to the tattered remains of her credibility by playing an FBI agent inexplicably investigating Cage’s low-profile success at gambling, having intuited that he can see the future (the first conclusion any seasoned investigator would reach). Furious Superior FBI Man (identifiable as such by being middle aged, chubby, balding and white) comes up to her and says, “I don’t have time for gambling fraud! There’s a stolen nuclear device being smuggled into the United States right now!” He does not add, “Probably in Los Angeles! Get me Jack Bauer!” But you know he totally wants to.

So that’s it. A guy who can see two minutes into the future is Julianne Moore’s best idea for how to stop a nuke. See, he’ll tell them two minutes before it goes off that it’s going to go off, and then the FBI can stop it. The plan is to sit him down in front of a TV, figuring the minute LA goes Day-Glo, the news will carry it. This is incredibly stupid not because two minutes cannot possibly be enough time to scramble a team to the nuke’s completely unknown location and have them deactivate the bomb in time, but because if Los Angeles were vaporized in a nuclear holocaust killing millions across the Southland, CNN would not lead its story with, “A nuclear bomb that destroyed all of Los Angeles was detonated in the back room of a Chinese restaurant at 595 Figueroa Avenue in downtown L.A.” The information that Cage would’ve provided from that two-minute TV preview, or from being within the blast radius himself, would’ve been as useless as telling potential victims to duck.

That’s how the movie falls apart in the big picture. More entertaining is to look at the nuances, the way in which every single scene in the film is a failure. And by entertaining I mean, this movie is so bad in every possible way, I cannot shut up about it. I am walking around my office today, as I write this, accosting coworkers and telling them stupid episodes from this movie. It’s that bad.

From this point on, I’m going to pick over this piece of cinematic roadkill like a vulture. Here’s the short review: If you don’t care at all about story or acting, if you just want to see a guy with a vague superpower beat very, very vague badguys through a cheat twist ending that leaves you feeling ripped off, this movie has all the rapid, glittery movement and bouncy sound to entertain your inner infant. But I’m amazed you’re able to read these sentences. If you have a modicum of self-respect, if there is anything else you could do with 96 minutes, then avoid “Next” like creative leper it is.

Minor spoilers ahead, but the big one will be way at the bottom, and there will be proper warning. What follows is a nearly random collection of Really Wrong/Stupid Crap, and just trust me, I’m leaving a lot out.

— In the opening sequence, casino security becomes suspicious of Cage’s moderate but repeated success at blackjack and sends its thugs to detain him. Using his ability to predict the future, Cage leads them a merry chase that is actually quite cleverly done. He ends it by stealing a car instead of just vanishing into the crowd on the strip. Being able to see only two minutes ahead, he can’t see how, even if his powers let him evade the high-speed police chase (they do), he’s unable to predict that he will now be a wanted man. He has pointlessly thrown away his entire life for no more reason than to provide a little excitement in the first act.

— Within moments, all casino security tapes of Cage’s escape have been downloaded to some sort of FBI mobile crime trailer in the parking lot. Spiffy. When Moore questions the casino security chief, she also offhandedly tells him that all these tapes have been wiped from the casino’s system. In the real world, the FBI can’t just do that. (She doesn’t say the physical tapes have been seized, which is at least physically possible, though it would require a warrant, I’d think.) Also, even in Stupid World, the FBI would have no reason to do so — cardsharping isn’t something the FBI works, so in fact they’ve just destroyed crime evidence the Nevada Gaming Commission, or whomever, would really want to have. All to show us that the FBI is bad-ass and rights-tramplin’.

— The one exception to Cage’s two-minute rule is that he gets soft-focus, slow-motion visions of destined true love Jessica Biel (I get those, too) that seem to be further into the future. Based on one, in which she walks into a certain diner at exactly 8:09, he shows up morning and night to wait for her. He drinks a martini. At 8 a.m. Two olives. In a diner. This isn’t presented as quirky, or character revealing. It’s just distractingly stupid, as if the filmmakers themselves had never had breakfast that didn’t include a martini. Which actually explains a lot about this film.

— There’s a funny bit where Cage predicts how various attempts to introduce himself to Biel, but it leads like this: Jessica, unpretentiously gorgeous and, 24 years old when this was shot, walks into a diner at 8:09 a.m. in Las Vegas. Nic Cage, who’s swimming the northern shores of 40 years old, with wild hair in a bad, bad black dye job, stares at her with slack-jawed menace, really — not a “hey, she’s cute” glance, but a “my god, it’s Princess Diana back from the grave!” unblinking stare. As she walks past, Biel looks down and grins. Yes, that is how really pretty girls react to poorly socialized aging alcoholics glaring at them before breakfast — they give subtle flirting encouragement.

— And lest you think that’s too nit-picky, here’s further proof that none of the six credited writers on this flaming piece of crap was a woman: After Biel, who just escaped a crazy, stalky ex-boyfriend, wrestles with her attraction to creepy old Nic and does decide to sleep with him, she wakes up and he’s fully dressed. She asks what’s up, and he says, I swear, “There’s something I have to do. Something I can’t put off any longer.” Does she become angry because he’s clearly acting like a cheap one-night stand, probably some married old asshat who just seduced her and used her? No, she says, “Are you coming back?” He says, “Yeah. Maybe in a week, maybe in a month. If you can wait, I can find you.” Does she tell him to go screw himself? Does she slap him? Does she slap herself? No, she just kisses him. Riiiiight.

— The terrorists in the film have no dialogue except stuff like “Find Nic Cage and kill him.” They are very decisively not Arab terrorists, but they have no names, no motivation, no nationality, no cause, and no characterizations. They seem to speak French sometimes. So, what, the French are so fed up with American culture flooding their multiplexes, they’re going to nuke Hollywood? This film is like the worst season of 24 (which, given this season, is really saying something) — there’s not even a pretense that the terrorist thing matters except as the vaguely defined walls of the maze we want to run Cage through. Incredibly sloppy, indifferent crap.

— Speaking of which: At one point, while still in Las Vegas, Moore is trying to tough-talk Cage into helping her find the nuke (he refuses because he’s afraid he’ll become a government guinea pig) that could blow up a U.S. city. She says if he doesn’t help, “your next magic show will be in Folsom State Prison.” Memo to the screenwriters: Folsom State Prison, while being a brilliant Johnny Cash album, is also in California. Not Nevada. People arrested in Nevada would end up in a Nevada state prison, unless they were arrested by the federal government, say, the FBI, and then might end up in a federal prison. But do you know where a Nevada resident arrested in Nevada by feds or by local cops doing the feds’ bidding would not end up, ever? Folsom State Prison.

— For undefined reasons, the terrorists are spying on the FBI. This is very easy to do. They even determine that one crazy fed is betting her whole stack on a Vegas sideshow psychic being able to find the nuke. The terrorists’ response, I kid you not: “We must kill Nic Cage — NOW!” If I ever decide to blow up an American city with a stolen nuclear weapon, and I find out the feds are wasting their time chasing me with the Amazing Carnac, I will stay the hell out of their way and be glad they are that incredibly stupid. Last thing I will do is a lot of stupid things that only end up bringing Cage and the feds right to my secret factory of terrorist doom in Los Angeles, hundreds of miles away.

— It is summer in Vegas. We know this because Cage can’t tell if it’s morning or evening when he has his 8:09 visions of Biel, so it must be summer, when the days are long. As he and Jessica drive to Arizona, it rains at night — pours vigorously enough to wipe out a bridge, because we need the bridge wiped out and because we need a nice romantic mood when Jessica falls asleep and nuzzles against his shoulder like a tuckered little kitten.

— Nic, for no reason that makes sense, tells the old joke about the Buddhist monk ordering a hot dog (“Make me one with everything.”) Only Cage messes it up, and says “He says, “˜I’ll have one with everything.” Which makes no sense at all. Not a plot point, not addressed, just another sign of how crappy and stupid everyone making this movie is.

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— Early in the movie, the FBI is surrounding Cage, and the terrorists (who have amazing resources) have surrounded the FBI. They have Cage in their sites for a full minute, sniper rifle ready to kill him, which is what they came hundreds of miles into the wilderness to do. Now, granted, if Cage were about to get shot, he never would’ve walked out on the balcony, ’cause he’s all psychic, yo. But why doesn’t he get shot? He’s standing there on a porch, motionless, totally centered in the scope. “Shoot him,” says Other Terrorist. “Not Yet,” Says Sniper Terrorist, who then enjoys that perfect shot for another 10 seconds, and watches Cage saunter back indoors. (Deleted scene: “Idiot! Why did you not shoot the utterly preposterous “˜threat’ to our evil scheme, as we came all this way to do?” “Because, I was stopped by the single fact that, then, the movie would be over! And, we would win, which would only play well in foreign markets!”)

— Peter Falk is in this movie. After stealing the car, Cage hides out at Falk’s garage, which has all sorts of neon kitsch and a pool table. He brings Falk a sandwich (and, you know, 100 angry cops and FBI agents), establishes that Falk is not his father but is a very paternal buddy, a crusty curmudgeon sidekick. Then Cage flees just before Julianne Moore and her stormtroopers can bust in, and then we never see Falk again. Two questions: Why do we have this scene, and why aren’t Columbo residuals enough that a fine old cat like Peter Falk doesn’t have to stoop to crap like this?

— When Cage is strapped by evil Julianne Moore (who makes a speech about how in trying times we have to suspend civil rights) to a chair in a bare, industrial room with a single TV on a tall stand, he’s strapped in with an eyes-pried-open torture headset like in “A Clockwork Orange.” Because he might miss the nuclear freakin’ explosion if he blinks?

— As in other bad movies, helicopters are silent when you can’t see them. So if you’re on a rooftop in L.A. on a sunny, still day, and a chopper full of federales is hovering just below roof level until it can dramatically rise into your sight, you will not hear the thundering beat of its rotors until it does the dramatic rising. Traffic copters you can hear from about half a mile, but not helicopters full of armed government agents. They’re stealthy.

— Speaking of helicopters, anonymous badguys can have one and use it at will in downtown L.A., where apparently access to airspace isn’t, oh, monitored and controlled by government agencies, or anything.

— When you sneak up on the terrorists, and don’t want them to know anything is up, it’s best to have Julianne Moore order her fellow feds to “shut down” all cell phone towers, landline networks and shortwave radios in a two-mile radius. ‘Cause that won’t make the villains suspicious. But it was cool to find out the feds can “shut down” the short wave spectrum at the press of a button. It sure sounds impressive to have your characters bark orders like that.

— A key premise of his romance with Biel is that Cage has had far-off visions of her but cannot control them in any way. Except when the terrorists are holding her hostage, and then he can summon up visions of the badguys’ license plates just when the FBI needs them. Psychic superpowers are cool.

If you’re going to see this nightmare, here’s a game to play: Cage’s third-act motivation is to rescue Biel from the terrorists’ clutches and prevent the nuke blast, and he’s using his mental mojo to steer events in the government’s favor. As an enormous firefight with choppers, car wrecks, automatic gunfire and lots of running and screaming ensues, try to think of any way Cage could possibly have engineered a more dangerous situation than this. That’ll keep your brain busy while the movie continues to insult your besieged intelligence.

Okay, my rage is temporarily spent, but here’s the stupid, stupid ending that will utterly spoil the film for you. Stop reading now if you care to not know how much worse this movie gets.

Seriously, stop now. This is a spoiler zone. Do not come cryin’ to me later that I ruined the worst part of the worst move of the decade for you, ’cause I will not feel your pain. Go now.

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Okay, are the rest of us alone in here? Right, so, in the big chase to rescue Biel, lots of crap blows up, and Biel is rescued, and then, even though Cage can see his future for two minutes and Jessica’s for, like, days, at will now, he says something like, “Oh no, I messed up,” and somewhere in the distance, the nuke explodes and they all die in the blast. Except then Cage wakes up still in bed with Biel, way back before Moore managed to capture him. The whole last two-thirds of the movie has just been his dream of the likely future — much of which not directly involving Biel, and thus utterly violating the two rules of his power and the Jessica Loophole.

Not only is this a tremendous cheat, but it makes no sense. The director and writers don’t care to tell us why Cage suddenly, the one time it counts most, failed to see his death two minutes ahead, or Jessica Biel’s hours, days ahead. The filmmakers don’t know the answer, either. They don’t care. They just want to press that reset button to give you a startling twist. Bastards.

Then Nic does his, “I gotta do what I gotta do” goodbye to Biel, goes off with the FBI, and the screen fades, mercifully, to black. Seriously, that’s the film. I hope I have saved you all ten bucks, or twenty if you would’ve bought your date’s ticket, too. This is a film so bad, there should be an international effort dedicated to eradicating it, like smallpox.

And then we’ve gotta do something about Cage.