Tony Scott is not uninterested in the feelings of uncertainty that beleaguer people after a great tragedy, but he relocates our sense of real-world helplessness to realms of deluded fantasy. Like Déjà Vu, Lee Tamahori’s new film Next may be considered a survey of Acute Prolonged Stress Syndrome, which, according to D.C. psychologist Dr. Rona Fields, is rampant in our post-9/11, post-Katrina, post-everything world of perpetual terrorist alerts and fear-mongering media reportage. Both thrillers revolve around concerted efforts to stop a terrorist explosion, but while the longing and remorse that motivate Denzel Washington in Scott’s kinetic blitzkrieg are laughably naïve, Nicolas Cage’s struggle in Tamahori’s action romance is, by comparison, genuinely philosophical. This is partly because one film looks back while the other looks forward.
Cage stars as Cris Johnson, a magician with the ability to look into the future, though only into his own and only as far as two minutes (give or take a few seconds). After the acrobatic lengths Déjà Vu goes to in order to explain the logistics of its Snow White surveillance system, it’s actually refreshing that Next doesn’t feel the need to rationalize Johnson’s Achilles’ heel. It’s simply a random act of fate—one more burden for this poor schlub to shoulder, and fuck it if he’s going to allow Julianne Moore’s F.B.I. agent to recruit him for matters of national security. He knows his limits, and as far as he’s concerned, the only thing that matters is tapping Jennifer Biel’s ass. But when Liz (Biel) gets her ass kidnapped by Russian terrorists who plan to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles (no tasteless New Orleans setting here!), things get personal and Cris chooses to expand his mind, trying to see more than two minutes into the future—egotism begetting altruism.
Next is visually ungainly and arbitrarily scripted but not unthinking (notwithstanding the dubious fact that it takes Cris and Liz a matter of minutes to make it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in one scene). Very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story The Golden Man, written in 1954, it does not take place in a post-apocalyptic tomorrow but a recognizable present-day, and after the sleekly aggressive audio-visual assault of Déjà Vu, its B-movie-ness is almost charming. What would you do if you could change the future? Making a consternated effort to grapple with its terrorist subtext, the story sees Cris’s power as a pre-intelligence report but is not so adolescent as to suggest that looking backward or forward in time is enough to avoid all danger to self and country. Cris’s struggle isn’t so much to save the world but to accept his essential human value and sense of moral purpose.