Sunday, April 29, 2007

Next: A Review

More films have been made from Philip K. Dick short stories than novels. NEXT continues this trend. Based on the story "The Golden Man," Lee Tamahori's film was adapted by Gary Goldman--a long-time Dick fan with his name in the credits of TOTAL RECALL and MINORITY REPORT. Despite (or perhaps because of) Goldman's participation, Dick's name should probably be removed from this film as the relationship to the short story is tenuous at best.

The Golden ManThe only similarities between "The Golden Man" and NEXT come from the main character's name and ability to see into the future (Dick calls this "prethinking"). He must also share an undeniable charm to females, otherwise the relationship between our protagonist, Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage), and the woman he's destined to meet, Liz (Jessica Biel), would just be too difficult to believe. Unless Liz is simply a sucker for Cris's orange (golden?) tan, hair extensions, and self-sacrifice (he sleeps in a car while giving her a hotel bed all to herself).

While the title of the film refers to Cris's ability to see two minutes into the future, the short story could have shared the title but would have referred more to Cris being the next link in the human evolutionary chain, albeit perhaps not the most desirable one. In Dick's post WWIII story, Cris is another in a series of mutations. He's managed to elude capture and euthanasia. While Cris can see into the future it's more instinctual than reason. In fact, he has no higher powers of reasoning and runs on animal instinct alone. He doesn't even have the ability to speak. That Cris is undeniably attractive to women with his golden skin and Adonis physique, it's without a doubt that his DNA will carry on and someday usurp the current human genome. None of that can be found in the screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Paul Bernbaum.

The film opens strong, showing Cris at work in Las Vegas as a cornball magician and skilled gambler. When one of his good deeds backfires on him, he makes a daring precognistic escape from a casino. Afterwards we meet Irv--a completely throw away role that wastes the talents of actor Peter Falk. From there we enter into territory that feels closer to Phil Alden Robinson's THE SUM OF ALL FEARS or Tony Scott's DEJA VU than anything by Dick when NEXT becomes a by-the-numbers "vaguely European terrorists have a nuclear bomb and we have to stop them" plot with a futuristic twist.

All in all, I had a fun time watching NEXT until film abruptly resets itself at the end, leaving the audience hanging and hoping that everything works out. While the filmmakers undoubtedly thought this was a clever twist, it's a rather cheap anti-climax that fails to satisfy the need for closure. Sure to be a blip on the radar, this flick won't be in theaters for long.

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