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Next (2007)

by on 2010/05/26

Thanks to the Terminator series, much geek lip service is paid to the idea “there is no fate but what we make”.  While Next explores its own take on that theme — fate being the result of a choice — audiences at large were less than eager to humour, let alone embrace it.

Now, although I hate to disagree with the rest of the world…

(Oh, who am I kidding?  No I don’t.)

…but I enjoyed Next.  Really, truly, and honestly enjoyed it.  And not in a Charlie’s Angels way.

However, your enjoyment of it will probably depend on two factors.  First, how well can you suspend your disbelief?  Can you accept the conceit that a character has the ability to project themself into the immediate future?  Second, can you make peace with a tale that breaks this conceit at will?  I said yes to the former, and was sufficiently entertained to excuse the latter.

Next is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the creator of other high concept stories I’ve enjoyed to varying degrees, including Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, and Total Recall.  Perhaps the easiest way to convey its tone is to say that it feels like The Fugitive filtered through the trappings and sensibilities of Mulholland Drive.

Nicolas Cage plays a paranoid psychic who hides in plain sight, doing a Las Vegas nightclub act.  He is driven by two seemingly unrelated motivations:  the desire to locate a mysterious woman (Jessica Biel) whose image has been haunting his dreams, and avoiding the pursuit of an FBI agent (Julianne Moore) who wants to employ his abilities against a terrorist threat.

The film begins in an interesting way, like Groundhog Day distilled into a single scene, demonstrating the plot device of foresight.  (Unlike that movie’s “serial cyclicality”, however, Next employs a “parallel possibilities” model.)  Despite the initial primer, the remainder moves quickly, without stopping to explain itself along the way.  Whether you feel an action movie justifies the effort required to understand branching plots will be up to you.  As with Timecrimes, it’s precisely those quantum gymnastics that added so much to my experience.

I don’t think mainstream audiences were ready to work that hard for this popcorn flick, and they certainly didn’t appreciate the resulting frustration.  At the same time, critics weren’t satisfied by the payoff to their efforts.  But in a world that celebrates the gamut run between The Wizard of Oz and Dallas, I hope we haven’t seen the end of mind benders like Next.

* * * *

Rated PG for adult and intense situations, language, substance use, and violence

96 minutes

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