Sci-fi action romp in which a Vegas magician is sought by the government to help prevent a looming disaster. Cris 'Frank Cadillac' Johnson (Nicholas Cage) is a Las Vegas stage magician with the unique ability to foresee the future. This talent he keeps hidden, instead performing the usual rabbit/hat material. As a child he was subjected to endless tests and examinations as to the origins of his baffling talent/affliction so that he has developed a deep aversion to authority. However, when a terrorist group threatens to let off a huge nuclear device in Los Angeles, FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) ferrets the unlikely seer out, determined that Cadillac's anti-authority streak will not come before the lives of the people of California. She embarks upon a campaign to ensnare him using all her womanly wiles. Unfortunately, two French terrorists also show up at the casino Cris works at, wanting to know more about his powers of vision.
The weirdness of actor Nicolas Cage and the weirdness of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick seem like a natural fit. The premise, taken from a short story by Dick, is a good one: A mediocre Las Vegas magician named Chris Johnson (Cage) can see into the future--but only about two minutes at the most. Just enough to pull off his act and to make some money at the gambling tables, so long as he's discreet. Unfortunately, he hasn't been discreet enough; a government agent (Julianne Moore) has sussed out his precognitive talent and wants to use him to track down terrorists. But all Johnson cares about is a beautiful young woman (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist
) that he can see in his future--much further in his future than he's ever seen before.
Next has flashes that point to a much, much better movie than it turned out to be. A sequence in which Johnson, clairvoyantly explores all the different permutations of how he might approach his mystery woman is both funny and thought-provoking, and when Johnson avoids pursuers by knowing just the right moment to turn a corner or duck his head, it's smart and suspenseful. Unfortunately, the terrorist part of the plot is utterly perfunctory and precognition is reduced to an action movie gimmick. Somewhere in there is the kernel of a romantic comedy about precognition that's just waiting to be made. Cage gives a solid if unsurprising performance, Moore is basically earning a paycheck, but Biel is unexpectedly good (and her part is considerably better-written than your usual romantic interest); her performance suggests a better future than anyone might have predicted. --Bret Fetzer
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