With Nicolas Cage the question is usually why? Why National Treasure? Why The Wicker Man? Why, why, why Ghost Rider? I ask a question like that, furrowing my brow and groaning my way through his movies. Then at some point, the same thing occurs to me that probably does to the tens of millions of people who help keep Nicolas Cage up to his gleaming teeth in leather jackets: The man is a movie star.
Arent a lot of people in movies movie stars, you ask? Probably. But unlike too many of Cages peers, he actually seems to enjoy being one. He might like being a star so much that he doesnt care what he does as long as hes doing something. What difference does it make? Theyll still come, you can imagine him saying as he fixes his hair in the morning (and if that gets any longer, darker, or fuller, well have to start calling it a mane). Seriously: He just made a hit out of a movie about a stunt man with a burning skull for a head.
Now hes back with a watchably absurd popcorn flick about a man who can see two minutes into the future. Incidentally, the man wears a tan suede jacket and the movie, generically enough, is called Next, which, at Cages rate of production, could be the name of all his upcoming movies.
Next has been adapted from the 1954 Philip K. Dick story The Golden Man, to which the movie bears almost no resemblance. Cage plays Cris Johnson, a low-rent Las Vegas magician. Right away Cage hooks us. He wears a velvet tux with a ruffled seafoam-green shirt and does his magic tricks with a stoners deadpan. Hes not taking this seriously: Theres barely anyone in the audience, hes playing to us. Theres something about gambling towns that just suits Cages blend of arrogance and self-deprecation Next is at least his third Vegas movie. But this one doesnt stay there long.
Cris finds himself hounded by the FBI, represented here by an enjoyably curt Julianne Moore. The feds have learned of Cages gift and want to use it to save Los Angeles from being taken out by a nuclear bomb. But he fears exploitation and takes off to Arizona, setting off a wild chase that does produce one silly yet exciting sequence (the director is Lee Tamahori) in which trucks and boulders and logs go tumbling down a hill.
For fabric-softening, the films three screenwriters give Cris visions of a woman. Her name is Liz, and shes played by Jessica Biel, the movies current must-have item. Alongside Cages spontaneity, Biel seems humorless and earnestly dull, the same way Eva Mendes did in Ghost Rider. It makes you wonder whether Cage is avoiding the Drew Barrymores of the world as a matter of vanity: Does he fear being upstaged? Not that Barrymore would want Biels part: Shes bait for the movies nuke-obsessed Eurobaddies. (The must-have items of 1988 are back.)
The filmmakers have their fun playing with Criss premonitory powers. One foot chase in a casino is sublimely choreographed, with Cris knowing precisely when to bend over or turn a corner so the security guys on his trail keep missing him by a nanosecond. Meanwhile, his visions look like regular scenes until they stop and start again in the movies reality. Of course, this happens so often that youre never entirely sure when youre watching real action or Criss prediction of whats to come.
This is fun for us, too until it turns crass. (We have to watch someone get blown up at least twice.) The movies attempts to psych us out are actually desperate, not least because the filmmakers and the effects department want to detonate stuff and have it not mean anything. When youre being toyed with that cheaply, you forget how much you admire Nicolas Cages shamelessness and start to resent the movies.