It always surprises me how far you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. For example, I was perfectly willing to accept that the protagonist in Next, Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage), was able to see exactly two minutes into the future. However, I wasn’t able to accept him seeing any farther than that. Why not? I’m not certain, but I think it comes down to the film cheating in regards to his powers, or at the very least, not explaining how he can eventually see farther.
The film begins with Cris doing a magic show. He’s a good magician, although FBI Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), who is sitting in on one of his shows is skeptical. How does he know that a woman’s necklace is going to fall? He then goes to the casino to gamble, although since he knows what’s coming, he wins a lot of money. He doesn’t bet big, as he thinks it will arise suspicion. He’s right. He then stops a robbery/murder, but is then chased down because the police think the gun was his. Or something like that anyway — it’s not explained all that well. He avoids them using his power to figure out exactly how to get away. My heart was pounding at this point, and the true plot hadn’t even begun yet.
Cris has visions about a woman arriving at a restaurant at a precise time. So he heads to the restaurant every day to see if she’ll show up. Eventually, she does. He introduces himself, and eventually finds out that her name is Liz (Jessica Biel). I say “eventually”, because we watch multiple attempts in order to get to know her, all done in the “future” but don’t actually occur because if he gets turned down, he just snaps back to present time and it didn’t actually happen. This becomes a power quite useful, although the rules aren’t set in stone. For example, later on in the film, he’ll be able to do all of those visions at one time instead of having to do them one at a time. Even later, he’ll be able to go more than two minutes into the future. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but I suppose if you’re engrossed by the story, you’ll ignore the fact that it doesn’t make sense.
The plot eventually involves FBI Agents trying to convince Cris to help them locate a nuclear bomb that’s supposed to go off at some point. There are terrorists, they have the bomb in Los Angeles, and they believe that Cris will be able to find out where the bomb will go off so that they can stop it. Do they not know that he can only see two minutes ahead and that he has to be personally involved in order for his powers to work? Apparently not, or maybe they know that the rules can be broken if it’s convenient to the plot.
The majority of Next is a chase film. The FBI and the terrorists both chase after Cris and Liz, and then we have a shootout near the end. For an action film, it does a decent job in keeping you entertained, although if you stop to think about how Cris’ powers work for even a few seconds, you’ll realize how absurd they are. If a film sticks to the rules it establishes, it doesn’t matter how crazy those rules are. Next constantly breaks them and that means that we don’t have any coherency or consistency to grab onto. This leaves the audience feeling lost, and it also means that there’s no reference point for us to grasp.
Having an ability to look into the future seems like a cool power, but it means that there’s no danger for the character. We’ll see Cris get shot a few times, but then we’ll just rewind time. I’m not sure why there isn’t any consistency here. Sometimes, Cris will see things coming and just avoid them. Other times, we’ll have to watch the future — although we don’t get a clue that it’s the future until something goes wrong — and then watch him react. This is just another example of the film not giving the audience a frame of reference.
And then there’s the ending. To put it bluntly, either the filmmakers ran out of money, or they have the guts to pull off what’s one of the more frustrating conclusions that I can think of. You can somewhat justify it thanks to one offhand reference to something in the film, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. There’s also the fact that it leaves the audience with a sense of unfinished business, like you’re missing another 45 minutes of film. It seemed like Next should have been two and a half hours long, but instead, it’s just over 90 minutes.
However, I’m thinking that they didn’t run out of money, especially considering that Next had a budget of $70 million. If I got to ask director Lee Tamahori anything, it would be how they managed to spend $70 million on this film. Okay, there are some action scenes and a lot of (terrible) CGI, but it seemed more like a $30 million film to me. Were the salaries that high? Did they hire the wrong company to do the CGI? (Of that I am almost certain, because the CGI was terrible and really stood out.) I just don’t understand how that much money was spent on this film.
If you don’t think about it, Next might be a passable action film that will keep you entertained for an hour and a half. For me, it was a disaster because it didn’t adhere to its own rules. It also cheated me with the ending — there wasn’t one. I felt like we needed another hour of footage, and that how Cris’ powers worked needed to be explained or at least remain consistent. There’s nothing for the audience to recognize as consistent, and I just didn’t have a good time with Next.