Will the plundering of the works of Philip K Dick never cease? What’s the deal here, are the stories in the public domain? I mean, they’re good stories, but no other SF author has had nearly as many big, expensive, stupid movies made from his works. It began 25 years ago with the gorgeous but overwrought and illogical Blade Runner (from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Then we got the vacuous Total Recall (short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”), Screamers (1995) (short story “Second Variety”), Impostor (2002) (short story), Minority Report (2002) (short story), Paycheck (2003) (short story), and the horrible-looking rotoscoped A Scanner Darkly. There are even two truly obscure adaptations: Confessions d’un Barjo (1992), (novel Confessions of a Crap Artist), and Abre los ojos (1997) (novel Ubik). Now we get Next, based on the novel The Golden Man.
Actually, it’s not nearly as bad as I feared. At least the first part.
But what’s the deal with Nicolas Cage? He seems to have decided to alternate: One serious to fairly-serious movie (like this one), and one piece of total crap. Does he need the paychecks? Is he script-deaf? (This is an affliction that some actors have. Sandra Bullock comes to mind.) Whatever, his name used to be one I’d count on for a good picture. Not anymore.
The gimmick here is a good one. Dude can see two minutes into the future … but that soon is abandoned, for reasons never really explained. By the middle of the film he’s seeing hours ahead, and by the end, days. Now, that could have been an easy fix, and you still could have preserved the basic complications. What we gradually realize is that, at any moment, what we thought was the story line can turn out to have been merely his visions of possible futures. And here’s a dilemma. This is man who is truly invincible. In one well-done scene, we see him appear to split in two, then three, then there are dozens of him exploring your obligatory Big Dark Space with lots of Places to Hide. We understand that this is merely threads of possible futures, and he’s picking the only good one. It gives us a glimpse of his world. We’ve already seen him win many a fight simply by knowing where punches are going to be thrown, where bullets are going to hit, where booby traps are planted. Nobody can touch him. Then we go down a long, long trail of probabilities, half an hour or more of screen time … and then things go fatally wrong … and he wakes up, much earlier, and we see it was all just a thread of possibility. He gets to start over and make different choices this time. No one could possibly, ever, stand a chance against this man. No prison could hold him, short of a perpetual straitjacket and drugs, and then what use would he be? And this all sort of obviates the plot tension. All that hullabaloo over the atomic bomb was phony. It never could have gone off. It never will go off. If he could only see two minutes forward, we’ve got a plot, but the moment the writer decided he could see much farther into the future, everything from that point forward becomes a cheat.
Not to say it wasn’t amusing. I enjoyed it about ¾ of the way, then it slid into the usual orgy of chases and shooting, and then the cheating ending. I’m not saying the ending wasn’t logical, given the rules they had already broken by then … but it was still a cheat.