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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » August 29, 2007
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August 29, 2007 By Witold Żygulski   
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Philip Kindred Dick is not the luckiest of authors when it comes to adaptations of his novels and short stories. Only the first adaptation, Blade Runner from 1982, is widely considered a sci-fi masterpiece. The movie, directed by Ridley Scott, was the only one that Dick got to see before he died, and that only in part-he died before Blade Runner opened.

Things got worse afterwards, as neither Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall from 1990, nor Impostor which Gary Fleder directed in 2002 lived up to the expectations of the eccentric writer's fans. Not even Minority Report which Steven Spielberg, no less, made in 2002 managed to please them. They were the most satisfied with A Scanner Darkly, which Richard Linklater made last year. That picture, however, is mostly an animated feature.

Fans of the legendary sci-fi author are highly unlikely to warm to Next by Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Mullholland Falls). Still, the movie is pretty passable as light entertainment, as it maintains a fast pace for an hour and a half, there is no special effects overkill and some ideas in it are really good.

Nicolas Cage, an Academy Award winner for Leaving Las Vegas by Mike Figgis, is back in America's gambling capital as Cris Johnson, a second-rate illusionist with the stage name of Frank Cadillac. He lives off his magic tricks and casino winnings. He always keeps a low profile when gambling, however, and quits when he has won a sum not exceeding four digits. He could rake in much more, but then he would draw attention to himself and that is the last thing he wants. Johnson has had a special gift since he was a child-he can see the future, but only when it is his future and does not stretch more than two minutes ahead.

This quiet "substitute for a life," as Johnson likes to call it, turns upside down when a group of very vaguely identified terrorists (as in most recent Hollywood productions, they come from outside the United States-they speak French and curse in Serbian) smuggle an atom bomb stolen in Russia into California and are about to set it off. FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore in a shameless copy of her role as Clarice Starling in Ridley Scott's Hannibal) is on the case and she believes that Johnson can help find the bomb and prevent an Armageddon with 8 million victims. Johnson, on the other hand, would be most happy to go somewhere safe in the company of Elizabeth Cooper (Jessica Biel-The Illusionist), a teacher he meets as a result of a vision he had. The trouble is, the terrorists know that the inconspicuous magician can foil their plans. How they know it nobody cares to explain, just one of many holes in the plot.

The script of Next is based on what a scientist might call nonlinear short-time structures. When it seems something has irrevocably happened, it turns out to be just the main character's vision, a series of events he can alter. The viewer realizes this at least from the moment when Johnson first approaches Cooper and uses his visions to "test" her reactions to his different interactions with her ex-boyfriend. Unfortunately for him, the version of reality that gets her best reaction also gets him a punch in the face. Such two-minute "reality corrections" work fine in a thriller. There is a scene in which the psychic takes a relaxed walk among armed SWAT troops engaged in a fierce clash with the terrorists and tells the agents every once in a while which side attacks are about to come from. It borders on comedy, but is still enjoyable. Just like the last thing Johnson tells the boss of the terrorists: "I've seen all possible endings and none of them is good for you."
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