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U.S. Release Date: 4/27/2007
[star][half star]

In "Next," Nicolas Cage plays a two-bit magician who can see into the future. If only Cage and co-stars Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel had consulted a psychic before signing to make "Next": Any swami worth $20 would have warned them the movie would turn out to be a fiasco.

Actually, the only visions "Next" inspires are flashbacks to better films. Seeing Cage skulking around Las Vegas in the opening scenes recalls his earlier "Honeymoon in Vegas" and "Leaving Las Vegas." When Biel's character falls under the conjurer's spell, there are distant echoes of her romance with Edward Norton in "The Illusionist." The sight of Moore as an FBI agent might make one nostalgic for her performance as Clarice Starling in "Hannibal."

Before we go any further, let's agree that any film that makes someone wish he or she were watching "Hannibal" must be pretty awful.

The plot of "Next" might have been conceived by a would-be screenwriter who had one too many martinis after seeing Denzel Washington's "Deja Vu." A nuclear device has been stolen and hidden by terrorists, and FBI agent Callie Ferris (Moore) is convinced the only hope of finding out its location rests with Vegas showman Cris Johnson (Cage). Johnson has the gift of knowing what's going to happen two minutes ahead of time, but Ferris thinks he might be capable of seeing even further ahead.

Turns out Ferris might have prophetic powers herself: For unexplained reasons, every time Johnson is around a particular beautiful woman (Biel), he becomes a soothsayer to reckon with. So if Ferris can get Johnson to think about his lady love while watching a cable news network, it stands to reason that he'll be able to flash-forward a few hours and foretell what the bad guys will do. Heck, maybe he'll be even more generous and reveal who wins "American Idol" and what happens in the season finale of "Lost."

But if Johnson had announced what would happen in the last five minutes of "Next," he would have been laughed out of the room. The ending of this film is not just a colossal cheat, it's a hard slap in the face to anyone who has invested his or her time in watching it. (The preview audience responded with groans of disbelief and derisive laughter. If it hadn't been a free screening, many of them might have been demanding refunds.)

There was a time when studios kept stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford under iron-clad contracts and sometimes forced them to star in movies unworthy of their talents. But that era ended long ago, so it's hard to imagine anyone coerced Cage, Moore and Biel into doing "Next."

What were they thinking? Cage performs as if he's on autopilot, Moore looks more miserable than she did as the suicidal housewife in "The Hours," and Biel seems fully aware she was hired only to provide a few glimpses of cheesecake. One hopes all of them were well-compensated for their halfhearted work, since it's safe to predict that this bit of hackneyed hoodoo will do nothing for their careers.


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