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Looking ahead

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Groundhog Day meets Minority Report in Next, a time-loop thriller starring Nicolas Cage as a Vegas magician who can see two minutes into the future. Knowing what's coming allows him to make adjustments, thereby altering the future. But wouldn't you know it, he can see that future, too. And if he doesn't like it either, he can make further adjustments, ad infinitum, until he finally gets the future he desires. As you might expect, this rather stacks the deck in his favor. There's simply no obstacle the scriptwriters - Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum - can put in his way that he can't more or less blithely maneuver his way around. They've nevertheless come up with a doozie: a 10-kiloton nuke that a gang of good-looking French and German terrorists (talk about Eurotrash) plans to detonate in downtown Los Angeles. Unless this guy agrees to work with the FBI, the very place that brought us Next could go kerblooie.

That would be a shame, because Next, despite playing fast and loose with the space-time continuum, is a rather enjoyable ride. Cage is still in the funk that descended upon him somewhere around The Weather Man. And he's looking, if anything, even more gaunt than usual, his eyes staring blankly, like bottomless pools of sadness. But that gives the movie some emotional heft it might not otherwise have had. Cage's Chris Johnson is a second-rate magician, despite powers that Nostradamus could only dream about. And he'd be content to ply his trade, supplementing his income at the blackjack table, if not for a pair of women who seem destined to be at his side. One he wants there - a stunning beauty (Jessica Biel) who keeps appearing in a vision that reaches beyond his usual two-minute warning. The other - a tough-as-nails FBI agent played by Julianne Moore - won't take no for an answer.

Moore is enjoyably no-nonsense, spitting out her lines like bullets from a machine gun. And Biel has little trouble convincing us that, given a choice between saving her life or eight million lives, a guy might have to let those eight million go. But it's Cage who keeps the movie on an even keel, at least until the action sequences take over, toward the end. He doesn't draw on his trademark irony, which might have come in handy during the excerpts from that magic act, but he appears to take the role seriously, and so why shouldn't we? There are some nice bits where Chris, knowing in advance which blows are coming from where, dodges them like Popeye in the ring with Bluto. How he does the same thing with sniper bullets, given the split-second timing, is a question perhaps best left for two minutes after the movie's over, at which time it will have safely removed itself from your consciousness.

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