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by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Next & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's a tale as old as time. Guy meets girl... in a projected future created by his subconscious. Dude falls in love with future girl, but doesn't exactly know what day in the future he's supposed to meet her -- he just knows it's going to happen around 9 o'clock. This is a strange occurrence for dude.





That's because dude, known as Cris (Nic Cage), has been seeing the future his whole life. Never before, though, has he been able to see more than two minutes forward. This time, somehow, the image of this girl (name's Liz, we later learn) is coming from much further forward. Days, maybe weeks.





This upsets Cris's routine. He's been working as a petty mentalist, using his power to eke a living out of cut-rate Vegas audiences, then using that money to cheat at blackjack. He earns just enough to buy ruffled shirts, martinis and David Crosby haircuts, but not enough to arouse suspicion.





He'd gotten used to the two-minute bursts of clairvoyance that pocked his day. The far-flung vision of Liz (Jessica Biel) upsets this, as does a pushy FBI agent who thinks Cris's power can help capture some Slavic terrorist-types who plan to detonate a nuke in L.A.





Though it's a little obvious where the Liz/Cris/nuke plot triangle is headed, Next is ultimately a well-paced, geeky, sci-fi action film that doesn't get ridiculous because it doesn't seek to explain too much. We never learn why Cris has these powers, or how the government found out about them, or why they only work for two minutes.





The only place that Next almost falls apart is in the opening credits. That's when we see a flash of text reveal that the film is based on a short story called "The Golden Man" by the prolific writer and drug addict Philip K. Dick. It happens to be a story I've read. Other than the character's name and the future-seeing thing, there's not one plot element I could find in common between the story and this movie. Dick's Cris, for example, was a golden-skinned mutant who was barely sentient and who used sex as much as clairvoyance. Say what you will about Nic Cage, but he's quite a bit more than sentient (and hasn't been golden since, like, Adaptation). It's hip as hell lately (Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly) -- though not necessarily lucrative (Paycheck, Impostor) -- to base your action flick on a work of Dick's, but this is preposterous, even by the standards of speculative fiction.





If that bit of source-material weirdness doesn't turn you off, though, you'll have fun with Next. Even those who hate Nic Cage night find it worthwhile. In a film about a normal dude with the not-so-normal ability to see the future (but only his own future), we see Mr. Cage get killed a good half-dozen times. Of course, these are merely projections of potential futures he is quick to avoid, but there's a certain catharsis nonetheless.





That's why, I think, both my companion (who hates Cage) and I (who do not) both walked away pleased -- though certainly not awed -- by Next. (Rated PG-13)

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