A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 424 – Next

Next – April 28th, 2011

I remember seeing previews for this back when it came out and thinking it looked like a neat concept but being uncertain of the plot the concept was used for. It looked like your standard “there’s a bomb!” action movie with a gimmick and I wasn’t too terribly interested in seeing a standard action movie with a gimmick unless it was super well done. I never heard anyone say this movie was super well done, so I never bothered. And it seems there was a reason for that. It really is a near concept, but the execution leaves me wanting more.

It didn’t take long for me to decide that this movie had some issues when it came to plot. What we’ve got here is a movie that’s not sure what it is. Is it an action movie with a romantic subplot or a romantic movie with action scenes? Is it supernatural or magical realism? Ultimately it’s that lack of defined identity that causes the most problems for me. I don’t mind a movie that breaks the mold and does something that defies traditional genre lines but it takes a lot of skill to do that well and this movie falls short, sad as that is. And since it isn’t breaking through traditional genres it ends up bodging a couple together in hopes that they’ll balance out and they don’t.

Our main character is Cris Johnson, a Vegas magician who has an act where he predicts the future and comes up with facts about his audience. It all seems like cheap tricks except he really can see the future. Two minutes into his own future, to be precise. Seems like a neat trick, but he just wants to live a quiet and semi-normal life, hiding in plain sight while keeping himself flush with winnings on moderate bets against the house in various casinos. And things seem to be going mostly okay aside from two things: One, he’s about to be noticed – finally – by casino security and thence by the FBI. Two, the one exception to his two minute rule is a vision he’s had of a woman in a diner and he doesn’t know who she is or why she’s shown up to him so far in advance. And so we’ve got our two plots. Cris is focused on finding this woman and figuring out who she is and why she’s shown up. The FBI wants him because they’ve got a rogue nuke in the hands of terrorists somewhere in L.A. and somehow they think he can find it. Or rather one of them, Agent Ferris, thinks so.

Now, this edges into Snakes on a Plane territory for me in that the “best option” here seems so wildly outlandish I’ve got to wonder just what other resources they’ve exhausted before letting Agent Ferris track down a dude who might be able to see two minutes into the future at best. Really? This is all we’ve got left? I have to think that we’re dealing with one of two scenarios: Either Ferris’ boss gave her a couple of teams to humor her and get her out of the picture so he could focus on stuff he could count on or we’re in a world where these powers aren’t so incredibly outlandish. Rare, but not unheard of. Enough so that an FBI agent could reasonably say “Hey, there’s this guy who can see into the future” and not immediately land themselves a nice safe desk position until the psych evaluation results came in. Because off Ferris goes with a rather large team of FBI agents with their helicopters, trucks, guns, etc. all to find this guy who can see her coming.

And Cris isn’t interested in using his rather specific gift to help Ferris out. He’d like to stay out of the government’s hands and just pursue his mystery love interest in peace. But there’s a bomb! A nuclear bomb! In the hands of an undefined and rather multinational terrorist group! And only the Two Minute Man can help! So Ferris tracks him down and the terrorists follow her to him, figuring that he must be important if she’s so hot on getting him. Meanwhile he’s charmed Liz, the mystery woman, and ended up spending a night with her in a quaint motel near the Grand Canyon. The two plots get tied together when first the FBI and then the terrorists involve Liz in their pursuit of Cris and to be honest it’s pretty sloppy.

Part of the problem is that the movie seems to really want to portray Cris’ life and difficulties with his gift. He can see the future but only a tiny part and only in a very small focus, but it makes everything seem tedious to him and puts him in danger of being used. We get a few tidbits of his prior life, such as tests he did when he was a child and spent 36 hours guessing the next card in the deck for a team of researchers (in which case one would expect there to be a record of him somewhere that Ferris could have found, but whatever). The whole plot with Liz has the two of them talking about destiny and whether everything is predetermined. He’s mystified by her and how she’s the exception to his rules. There’s a lot of potential in the personal themes there. But then the movie wants to be a taut and suspenseful action flick too. There are quite a few scenes with Cris using his power to dodge bullets and duck punches and stop just before triggering a bomb. There’s the whole terrorists-with-a-nuke plot going on in the background while Cris is romancing Liz. It’s all just such an odd juxtaposition of plots and I get why it was done, with Liz eventually being used as a distraction to Cris to keep him focused on her and not the nuke, but that tosses the movie out of the romance/drama realm and into the action realm again and it just feels uneven and poorly meshed.

Another problem I have with the movie is that while I very much enjoy the concept, I don’t know that the movie portrays it well enough. There are times when it’s obvious that Cris is looking at what’s coming next but we can’t see what he sees. There are times when it’s obvious that Cris is looking at what’s coming next and we do get to see a glimpse of it. And there are still more times when the movie sets you up to think something’s happening when it’s actually just a potential future Cris is seeing and we then rewind back to the point when he’s seen it. Oh, I totally understand why the movie does what it does with the dramatic use of the rewind and all. And I get why it can’t always be showing us all the possibilities of what’s going to happen. But it seems unsatisfying to me. I can’t help but wonder what someone like Chris Nolan would do with this concept.

My last problem with the movie is Ferris. She’s a tough lady who Gets Things Done. That’s her character. And for the most part she seems like a good strong figure in the movie, determined to get Cris and stop the impending disaster. But for one, she’s obsessed with this guy she’s only just found on some tapes from a casino. Who the hell is she and why was she watching casino security tapes in the middle of a nuclear crisis? And then she’s strapped Cris to a chair and pried his eyes open Clockwork Orange style to force him to watch the news and tell her when he sees footage of the bomb. Which will give her two minutes. That seems so bizarrely obsessive for he sake of a very short window. She tells him to stretch the two minutes. Does she even get the restriction here? I guess not, but then it’s a sloppy movie in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the ending. I’ll avoid specific spoilers, but it’s a little frustrating to hit the end and see the future that Cris should not only have been able to see but also figure out given any sense at all. Not that the movie shows you what’s going to happen. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wants you to think everything is going to be just fine. But I could see it nonetheless. I’m gifted like that.

April 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

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April 28, 2011

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You may recall, if you’ve been following this movie project since the very beginning, that we reviewed a cheesy Nick Cage movie as our fourth or fifth review. It involved Nick’s character knowing the future, and before we put it in I thought that movie (Knowing) was this movie. I was wrong of course, but maybe you can understand my confusion. The distinction is that in Knowing Nick’s character is tortured by the inevitability of the future, in this movie he spends the whole time surfing through the best of all possible futures.

I enjoy the concept at the core of this movie, which frustrates me because I don’t particularly enjoy the movie itself. It involves a man, Cris Johnson, who can see two minutes into the future. Always two minutes. He has a sad sort of life as a two bit Las Vegas mentalist calling himself Frank Cadillac. He’s been eking out a living trying not to draw too much attention to the fact that he knows the roll of any die or the order of the cards as long as the results will be revealed within the next two minutes. When the pressure gets too bad he can make a getaway using his future sight to wend his way through all the possible next two minutes to find the path that leads to freedom.

This is a very cool notion, the idea of seeing multiple outcomes that can result from different paths taken. We’ve seen it already seen it in a couple of my favorite films: Groundhog Day and Run Lola Run. Sadly, with a couple notable exceptions near the end of the movie, this movie doesn’t do a very good job showing Cris navigating the many possible futures. We get to see him taking the miraculously perfect path like Phil Connors at the end of his very long day. We get to see him on a couple occasions slowly going through the alternatives available to him in search of just the right result. Most of the time, however, he doesn’t seem to know what’s going to happen until just before it does happen, and even then he seems surprised. I think that the film makers just couldn’t figure out how to portray this in a way that made sense to the audience.

Call that problem one.

Problem two is that after establishing this cool mechanic they proceed to throw it out the window because there’s this one girl that Cris has seen for some reason who is outside of the normal two minute window. He has seen her coming into a certain diner at a certain time, and he keeps going back there with the hope that this day will be the one where he finally meets her. Apparently there’s something special about this girl Liz. The issue with this is that the movie never bothers to resolve anything about her. Supposedly where Liz is concerned Cris’ power is much enhanced and he can see much further ahead (how far is never made clear) but still he is constantly shocked by things about to happen just seconds into the future.

Then there’s problem three – the whole main action plot of the movie. There’s this group of foreign terrorists who have smuggled a nuke into the US and a sort of female Fox Mulder who knows about Cris and his ability and wants to use him to prevent Armageddon. This FBI agent, Ferris, is obsessed with capturing Cris and forcing him to use his precog powers for the greater good. The terrorists are obsessed with killing him before he can reveal to the FBI the location of their weapon. Of course Liz gets caught in the crossfire. It’s a poorly thought out plot on many levels. For one, Cris very correctly points out that two minutes warning is not going to help much when a nuclear detonation is involved. For another, it’s unclear why both the FBI and the terrorists are so convinced that Cris is the key to their articular agenda. It is a frilly doily of a plot with more hole than material. Most frustratingly the final twist ending resolves absolutely nothing. He does actually want to help stop the terrorists and protect Liz, but I can’t figure out how the events as we see them at the end of this movie have that desired result.

It drives me crazy that this movie is so lackluster. There are hints of the interesting world that Cris lives in, but they’re never explored to my satisfactionn. Take, as a minor and fairly spoiler free example, the moment when Cris picks up a phone and calls Ferris’ cell phone without thinking about it. Well this makes perfect sense – Cris would never dial a wrong number as long as the other party answered his phone. If he can truly see every possible future then he could easily explore every possible phone number until he found the one that worked. Likewise he should be able to instantly hack any password or PIN. There’s just so much potential here, and it saddens me that it isn’t lived up to.

It’s even more frustrating because I really want to see more of Cris and Ferris working together. Ferris is played by Julianne Moore, who gives her a strong and powerful vibe. She’s a woman used to being in command and getting her way. I enjoyed seeing her in action, and felt shortchanged that I got to see so little.

This movie is a tease. It introduces cool ideas and abandons them. It feels like it borrows some of its coolest moments from other movies (like the famous train escape from The Fugitive.) It sets clear rules and boundaries to the supernatural talents that Cris has, and promptly throws them out the window. It leaves me unfulfilled and frustrated, and wishing that it culd have been better done because I so very much love the concept.

April 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment