My brother-in-law-to-be Joseph Horton takes a page from Nicolas Cage’s magician-who-can-see-two-minutes-into-the-future terrorism thriller Next and predicts what will happen on his Vegas bachelor party this coming weekend.
By Joseph Horton
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
Nicolas Cage can see two minutes into the future. He moves to Las Vegas to be an average magician and prescient low-stakes gambler. The government, apparently, prowls Vegas to see who has powers of interest to national security. There’s a bomb inside America that terrorists have stolen from Russia. Surely someone who can see the future is an asset.
So here we are. Nuclear apocalypse, superhuman abilities, Nic Cage with some of his best hair. He needs to save the country, and yet, all he wants is the girl.
Two minutes ago, that’s what I saw myself writing. Of course you’ve heard that one. It’s the perfect blend of Cageian absurdity, lowlifery, unappealing romantic attraction, and convenient world-saving. Even if you haven’t seen this movie, you actually have. Cage at various points says versions of, “Every time you see the future, you change it.” Perhaps the opposite is true of most mid-career Cage movies: every time you see one, you’ve seen the next few, too.
Technically, Cage is Cris Johnson, though this is one of the most sedate Cage character names, and he decides to help the government, led by FBI agent Julianne Moore (because, sure, she makes sense in that part). Jessica Biel is Liz Cooper, a woman so thinly drawn that “Liz Cooper” is somehow too mysterious a name.
That’s their story, but I should also explain mine. I wanted to do this review because, in 40 minutes (20 Cage views), I’ll be stepping off the plane at McCarran for my bachelor party in Las Vegas. Naturally, knowing two minutes ahead of when I need to race desperately to the bathroom or fold my terrible hand or yes, indeed, have that extra helping of buffet shrimp will come in handy. But I’m also looking ahead at the rest of my married, adult life, and I really would like to have at least a little sense of how everything’s going to turn out. Stuff matters now, doesn’t it? Mistakes more costly, bridges harder to repair, connections tougher to make. And if I end up being responsible for small humans, well, I want all the premonition I can take. I don’t need the full powers, I don’t even need certainty. (Certainly not the certainty of any Cage movie where we are comforted to know that the lines are either whispered or screamed, and that Cage will always have the rugged, smoky features of a cunning cigar store Indian.) But it’s appealing, isn’t it, to think about the bad decisions you might avoid with six of your best friends on the Strip or an argument you’ll have with your wife that ends with you sleeping on the couch watching Next? I would love to be able to steer my children away from Next. Suffice to say I think a lot about the the future these days, and I want more than ever to make sure I get it right. It’s likewise comforting to think back to ten years ago, when my judgment was bad enough to see Next in the theaters. Look how far I’ve come! It’s comforting to think, hurtling through the air 35,000 feet above the ground toward a city built of human garbage, having just watched a movie made of the same, that there’s a worthwhile message and meaning here. That I haven’t wasted my time. That in having seen this I can contemplate a little bit of my own future. But shit. The moment I see it, I change it, right?
Stop. Rewind. That’s dangerously past two minutes.
In theory, we should be interested in the plot and the rules. Cris can see two minutes into only his own future, except for a particular vision about Liz. He shows up every day at a café hoping to run into this love of his life (who, of course, has no idea who he really is; such is the fate of many Hollywood leading ladies and Cage’s wives). When Cris finally runs into her and conveniently latches himself onto her life, it’s of course already too late: the government wants Cris, the terrorists want Cris, and Liz, on the run with professional magician who “tells the future,” inexplicably wants Cris, too. After a romantic interlude between Cris and Liz at an Arizona hotel, the government agents swoop in, and Liz is kidnapped by the terrorists. Cris reluctantly helps the government. The whole caravan moves west to Los Angeles, where Cris uses his his powers in heretofore unseen ways—he can see farther into the future, he can pick up information from news reports, he can even dodge bullets. The day is soon saved, the terrorists killed, and all is well…UNTIL WE REALIZE CRIS HAS BEEN WRONG AND THAT THE BOMB IS JUST OFFSHORE AND EVERYONE DIES IN A NUCLEAR FIRE. There are still a few minutes left in this meager running time, so the fact that we flash back to the Arizona hotel, a full 50 minutes back in the movie, is neither inventive nor disheartening. If you’ve been paying attention to this plot, you’re a lot more than two, or 50, minutes behind.
Think of ten years ago. Still the Bush years. Next released in April 2007. Obama a senator, just starting his meteoric rise. Forget two minutes into the future for a second. Think of our future, period. Would we ever have imagined Obama as president, or Trump? If this movie teaches us anything, it’s that the future is a fucked up tangle of improbable fantasy and recycled junk. I’d actually feel better with a Russian nuke running around our country, since the Russians are a) somehow less nuts about nukes than Trump, b) Trump works for them anyway, and c) North Korea has nukes but doesn’t have Nic Cage, despite the movie’s odd reference to Korean tourists in the opening scenes (“How many people are here from the Orient?” Cris, a.k.a. Frank Cadillac, asks the crowd. “I’m sensing you must have Seoul…You’re a Seoul man! And may I assume this charming young lady is your daughter? [She’s my wife!] Well of course she is. And what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!”). I think of some of my favorite action movies of the ’90s (with prime Cage aplenty: The Rock, Con-Air, Face/Off) and the not-uncommon narrative that in the booming, “safe” ’90s, the movies had an easy, fantastical go of it: military terrorists on Alcatraz? Sure. Prison plane crashing into the Vegas strip? Sure. Good guy and bad guy switch faces? We’re listening. The narrative then says that the post-9/11 2000s were full of the actual worries—terrorism, a ruthless government, the trifecta of Iraq and Afghanistan and oil. How odd, now, that the lunacy of Next seems not only possible, but almost preferable? If I thought anyone in our White House could see, or cared about, even a second into the future…
All too political. We came here for Cage. I’ll say this for him. This is a magnificent performance from a man who clearly cannot see at all into the future. He’s infamously spent himself into oblivion and back again; ten years ago he was co-starring with actors of note in movies that still came out in theaters. Few in Hollywood are less prescient than Nic Cage, and that makes him—in his good roles, of which there are many; I will cagefight anyone who says otherwise—so in-the-moment, so unpredictable, so bonkers as an actor. As I get older, I guess I do still want to be surprised. I’m enough of a curmudgeon to think most stuff in life is crap anyway. I might as well be surprised by how odd it looks in the bowl.
I went into this movie thinking about my future. But if I’m really honest with myself, the most important message, for me, is how absurd it is to want to know the future. (In ten years we’ll all be making caftans for President Ivanka anyway, or Obama will have face/offed with Paul Ryan to get eight more years in a pasty Wisconsin body.) It is more absurd still to talk about the logistics of such an ability. Absurd most of all to make a half-baked action movie about it. Cage, bless him, takes life as it comes, and though I’ve never owned a tyrannosaur skull or had Dog the Bounty Hunter bail me out of jail or gotten into a screaming match with Vince Neil in front of a Vegas hotel, I’ll take a cue from the Cage: you’ve gotta roll with the strange, because who knows where you’re going to end up. Or, in the words of another famous Vegas debaucher Hunter Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Ok, I’m all about living in the present. I’ve been visited by the ghost of Cage future and seen the truth. But, for now, maybe just a few predictions.
I will tell the taxi driver at McCarran to take the surface streets but he will take the highway and charge us double.
I will drink my first beer as though it is a Hogwarts potion. After my hundredth beer, I will tell the booking officer that I am a wizard from Hogwarts.
I will return to Piranha nightclub, but this time I will block the hand of the man who tries to tear out some of my chest hair as a trophy.
I will bet on the Detroit Tigers to win, and they will lose.
The Detroit Tigers will pitch a perfect game, payable 10,000/1, and I will have already eaten my bet ticket.
While in downtown Vegas I will be haunted by the ghost of Ted Kennedy, which will actually turn out to be a partially alive grandfather from Florida.
I will mention that I have blackjack pretty much figured out as I am asking my fiancée to wire me money for the bus home.
I will watch Next at 4 a.m. and think it’s really, really good.