film | The disillusionist
In an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, one of the snarky robot commentators chides a film's horrendously nebbish leading man like so: "This isn't our star, is it? I will not accept this as our star! Can I see your supervisor, movie? This will not stand!" I thought the same thing during the opening moments of the botched techno-thriller NEXT, which introduce us to a low-rent Las Vegas magician played by a cringingly gallant Nicolas Cage under what might be the silliest receding mane of fake hair ever put on celluloid. As he dodges an array of bullets, explosions and bad-guy punches — he's a precognitive who can peek a whole two minutes into the future, because, you know, three minutes would really push that believability into the danger zone — you might wonder if you're watching Young Martin Van Buren: Action Hero or They Call Me MISTER Tesh!, Cage's bizzare New Age-y coif is so ridiculously distracting. And why wouldn't it be? Very loosely based on a 1980 book (The Golden Man) by famed sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, Next sports a dismally direct-to-DVD plot involving the government's attempts to nab Cage and use his psychic powers to thwart an impending terrorist attack, and if only I could also see two minutes into the future, I'd have tossed a pillow on top of my keyboard for when I dozed off writing that story synopsis. Ouch.
When the feds finally capture Cage, they strap him to a chair, attach a pair of the Ludovico speculums from A Clockwork Orange to his eyelids, and force him to watch the evening news. I think they're hoping for the day's headlines to trigger Cage into foretelling what city the nondescript Eurotrash villains — they're Russian, though I'm pretty sure they're speaking French — intend to blow up, but this is a woefully sketchy idea, not in the least because a warning window of two minutes ain't terribly reassuring when you're talking about a nuclear siege on unspecified American soil. Anyway, Cage seems less concerned with matters of national security than protecting the damsel-in-distress school teacher (The Illusionist's Jessica Biel) Next laughably asks us to accept as his tagalong romantic interest. Her character makes zero sense, as she's required to stick with — and sleep with! Ick! — the increasingly erratic Cage well after a reasonable gal would get skeeved out and boogie, but then neither does much of the rest of the movie, especially the fantastic Julianne Moore lending her talent to the thankless role of the FBI agent on Cage's case. (Seriously, Julianne: I mean, it's great to see you and all, but what the hell are you doing here?) However, just in case you're wondering, both Biel and Moore's locks look positively luscious, so that's one tic for the plus column right there. D