Friday, April 27, 2007

From the Archive: "Next" Film Review

Film Rating: B

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Next."

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
Originally published April 27th, 2007

The last weekend of April always brings at least one movie that I like to call a transition movie.  It transitions America’s movie-going public from the generally sloppy movies of Spring into the generally awesome movies of summer.  A transition movie isn’t a Spring movie---it’s too good to be a Spring movie---but it’s not awesome enough to be a summer movie.  “Next” is this year’s transition movie. 

“Next” tells the story of Cris Johnson, a two-bit Las Vegas magician.  But Johnson has a secret: he can see into the future.  There are restrictions however; he can see into only his future, and only two minutes ahead.  Though this may seem like a somewhat lame superpower, it’s actually incredibly useful.  His magician gig doesn’t pay very well, so Johnson gambles, and with his incredible gift, he always wins.  This gets the staff of the casino a bit curious, and Johnson’s powers even come under the radar of FBI agent Callie Ferris, who is looking for a Nuclear Bomb somewhere in L.A.  She wants Johnson to help her secure the Nuke.

This plot point is actually less believable than Johnson’s incredible gift of foresight.  The FBI does not get people off the streets to help them, no matter what alleged psychic powers they may have.  But is you suspend your disbelief, and save it for a different film, then this won’t bother you.

Anyway, Johnson has his own agenda; two weeks ago, he a saw a premonition of a woman of incredible beauty come into a cafĂ© at 9 past eight.  He’s never seen this far in advance before, but he knows he has to find her.  Every day, at eight A.M., and at eight P.M., Johnson waits there obediently, and after he narrowly escapes FBI custody, he risks going there once more and finds her.  After saving her from an abusive ex-boyfriend, he hitches a ride with her to Flagstaff.  The FBI, however, is hot on his tail, as are the Russians in possession of the Nuke.  They figure that if the FBI wants him so badly, they might as well kill him before the FBI finds him.

It’s a somewhat cookie-cutter plot, and didn’t really sound interesting to me at all.  I only described the beginning of the film, it gets much more original in the last half, but the movie works on a number of levels for 4 reasons:

1: The Screenplay
The story is intricate and riveting.  The dialogue is great, it’s got lots of fun and unforeseeable twists, and isn’t too long or drawn out.  A screenplay is the blueprint of a movie, and this movie had one great blueprint.  The writers never, for one second, forget that Johnson can see into the future, and use it to their advantage over and over again.  It’s a constant presence, and unlike most movies where the main character has an unbelievable power, the screenwriters truly do use it to the fullest of their abilities.  It’s used for gags, for action, and for all out badass moments.

2: Nicolas Cage
Or, as I should say, Nicolas.  Friggin’.  Cage.  This guy is simply one of the best actors in Hollywood right now.  While I think he could do a better job picking his projects, he gives every one of them, even the otherwise awful Ghost Rider, his very best.  As I’ve just stated, I didn’t think Ghost Rider was all that great, but Nicolas Cage made it enjoyable.  Every performance he turns in is a multi-layered one, and Cris Johnson is no exception.  You can’t distinguish the actor from the character; he understands Johnson deeply, and makes you believe that this guy has had to live with this foresight his whole life.  He plays the role with a laid back coolness that comes from always knowing what happens next.  I’d like to see a sequel to this movie just to see more Cris Johnson.
3: The Choreography/Action Sequences/Editing
No, that doesn’t count as three separate things.  An action sequence is a mix of editing and choreography, and the action sequences in “Next” are all edge of your seat, top-notch entertainment.  As with the non-action sequences, these scenes keep in mind that Johnson can see into the future, and most of the action revolves around this.  It’s darn cool to watch.  The editing is very tight, and it’s what makes the action so exciting. 

4: The Ending
Yes, there’s a twist, and you will not see this one coming.  I can usually see twists in movies like this, but this one came out of the blue.  I knew they were up to something, but the twist really hit me like a lightning bolt.  That, and where the movie chooses to end itself, has you leaving the theater pumped and excited.           

The movie isn’t perfect, but for these 4 reasons and more, it works and is great, B level popcorn fun.  There are some glaring flaws too (hence the term B grade)---the major one being Julianne Moore’s phoned in (to put it lightly) performance as FBI agent Callie Ferris.  Now, I’ve never really like Julianne Moore.  In fact, I think she’s a really, really bad actress who has an over inflated ego.  Every time she walks on screen, she’s not trying to be in character, but instead saying “Oh look!  I’m Julianne Moore playing an FBI agent (or other type of character).  See how great an actress I am!”  I swear, she’s as far from convincing as it’s possible to be.  She’s supposed to be really great with a gun, but when she’s holding a gun, she doesn’t look comfortable, like she’s afraid it will go off. 

But Nicolas Cage makes up for it.  Jessica Biel isn’t half bad either, and I think she really is a promising actress.  Her part doesn’t take much skill to pull off, and she does a fine job.  The rest of the acting is on par--Thomas Kretschmann (recently seen as Captain Englehorn in Peter Jackson’s King Kong) is a great villain, playing the man who controls the Nuclear device.

My other complaint about this movie is that you never really get the sense of the threat.  I mean, it’s a nuke.  The threat can’t get much bigger then that, and the film never really conveys that sense of pressure.  Maybe it’s because, in the film, the FBI are plucking civilians off the street to help them, but it just doesn’t feel completely believable.

This film is appropriate for anyone over 11 or 12.  It’s got lots of action, but nothing really violent. 

So, in short, it’s a fun way to spend 90 minutes, and a great movie to transition moviegoers into the summer movie season.  I bet I’ll forget all about it once films like Spider-Man 3 comes out, but as B level popcorn flicks go, it doesn’t get much better then this.  

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