Cinema Signal:
Selected Stories of
Philip K. Dick
Works that were the basis for "Blade Runner", "Screamers", "Total Recall", "Minority Report" and "Paycheck."
(in discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Next"

When you see as much of an actor as we've been seeing Nicolas Cage lately, (this is his third in 2007, after three last year) you look for something different. Even one-note personalities would have to admit that. But Cage does manage to pull a new shading out the hat for this one, and it derives from the clever premise. He has the mental gift of seeing two minutes into the future. The idea for us here is to see what he and director Lee Tamahori would do with it.

Starting off with considerable promise, Cage, as Las Vegas magician Cris Johnson, is a man who is tired of the demands that would be made on him if his gift were known. He laments the card from another deck that life dealt him, tormented by it, making him carry an unwanted weight. But, there are, of course, compensations.

Exploiting the doubts everyone has with magic acts, he's free to use his gift for his act, telling the audience things about a volunteer that only she would know, gleaning the detail from what he sees happening two minutes hence. A cheap trick, a gimmick, but a natural place to gravitate to.

Of course, working in Vegas provides the potential of a bonanza, but his analytic mind makes him realize that down that path could lie ruin. The single most important thing to avoid is to call attention to himself while playing blackjack, for example. But, sometimes something happens beyond his ability to control the consequences.

Uncomfortable with the attention his winnings are drawing from the casino surveillance team, he gets off the table with $9k in chips. As he waits for the cash, he sees a dude shoot the teller in the cage and grab the cash. His cash. But this is two seconds ahead -- hasn't happened yet. So, when the dude appears in real time, Johnson shoves him to the ground and takes his gun.

He's suddenly surrounded and it looks too much like he's a perp. In a fun set piece that demonstrates what his gift allows him to do to avoid capture, he anticipates every more the casino cops make when they chase after him. He gets away, but now he's a fugitive. He's also an object of desire for FBI lady agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) who's somehow (unexplained) caught on to his abilities and is trying to prove if they're for real. It seems there's an international gang of "24" style terrorists in possession of a nuke ("8 million lives in the balance") and somehow, if the mentalist would cooperate, this case-hardened agent thinks she can head off disaster.

But how can two minutes help that much? Of course, what the poor guy isn't telling anyone (except his closest friend and confidant Irv (Peter Falk), there is one future event with no time frame that he sees and it's something that more or less saves the picture by introducing the love interest. Everyday, like clockwork, Johnson sits in a diner waiting for her to come through the door. After a long wait, she does, and he uses his gifts in another fun sequence to find a way to connect. Liz (Jessica Biel) is far too hot a babe to not have heard every line imaginable, and she's not buying. What it finally takes I'm not spoiling for you, but they do end up on the road together.

A certain level of cleverness is evident throughout in the screenplay by Paul Bernbaum and Gary Goldman which they adapted to work in a context and at a level probably never imagined by the guy who dreamed it up in his novel, "The Golden Boy," that ubiquitous science fiction author, Philip K. Dick. His work has been used so much by Hollywood ("A Scanner Darkly," "Paycheck," "Minority Report," "Total Recall," "Blade Runner") that if he were alive and ran for high office, he'd get more campaign financing from the studios than anyone ever has.

In the fine cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau, crisply sharp close-ups of Cage and Biel showcase the kind of facial architecture that makes for screen power and lasting stardom. These images linger in the mind.

The feats the writers dream up to prime the sensibility pump are always accompanied by black holes of logic with numberless traces of revision, particulary in the final act when the battle is drawn with the terrorists who seem to arise from a "24" script. But you're having too much fun not to go along with the fruits of the premise: romance, special powers, invulnerable bad guys, uncanny escapes, slick wheels, pretty faces, the lot. It comes across as a thrilling, multi-faceted-but-phony-diamond of a chase and suspense yarn for the not-too-demanding that Cage and company (he also produced) gift us with and I, for one, appreciated it with my eyes wide open.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  
[Now, let's play our own game. Use the form below to write in with your own questions of logic. Something like... "Why blackjack, aren't there quicker and less dangerous forms of gambling for this guy to enrich himself? And, those terrorists. Where did they come from? Who do they represent?]

The Soundtrack


  • Making the Best Next Thing
  • The Next "Grand Idea"
  • Two Minutes in the Future with Jessica Biel
  • Visualizing the Next Move

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    Jessica Biel and Nicolas Cage
    Never fear, old "two-minutes ahead" is here.

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