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Nuclear vision Our hero is able to take a peek into his future

Nifty concept. But then "Next" is based on a story by the redoubtable sci-fi master Philip K. Dick ("Blade Runner," "Minority Report"), who is just about to receive the high literary accolade of being immortalized by the high-toned Library of America.

It's like this: Frank Cadillac is the stage name for a schlocky Vegas magician who tells us in the opening minutes that he's "the real deal masquerading as an act." And what's real about his deal is this: He has been able to see two minutes into the future ever since he was a tyke named Cris Johnson. He can only do it, mind you, if it directly relates to him, which eliminates him, say, from calling you on your cell at the race track and telling you who's going to win in the fourth race.

Lately, though, he has been seeing even further into the future -- days, even weeks. And what he sees is this: a heavenly looking woman who walks through the door and changes his life at a certain time while he's drinking a martini. So every day he shows up at that time at the same diner, has his martini and waits.

Cadillac/Johnson is played by Nicolas Cage, whose company produced "Next." The heavenly beauty is played by Jessica Biel, the kind of actress who'd make almost any man hang out at the same diner for months if, at the end of it, there was a road trip together to Flagstaff in a Land Cruiser and an overnight in a beautiful motel near the Grand Canyon.

Which there is.

And now the complication: Some evil French terrorists, for entirely obscure reasons, are about to set off a nuke in the heart of Los Angeles. And a smart, beautiful, ruthless FBI agent played by Julianne Moore wants Cadillac/Johnson on the team to stop them. So Cage spends the whole movie bouncing back and forth between Moore and Biel. Nice work, if you can get it.

Cage has always had a shameless fanboy affection for horror movies, sci-fi, comic books, etc. Sometimes the world's box offices have responded handsomely to his puerile affections. In this case, though, he's in movie theaters when "Spider-Man 3" is just about to blot out the sun, box office-wise.

After the cool concept, everything devolves into an utterly ridiculous movie leavened, occasionally, by good action scenes and wild imagery (a bunch of Nicolas Cages, for instance, dodging bullets in an M.C. Escher industrial maze).

In TV terms, think of it as "Las Vegas" meets "The X-Files" meets "24." The result is watchable but not very memorable for longer than two minutes afterward -- until you can figure out a real movie to see next, or at least something that's "the real deal masquerading as an act."

Related photo on Page 8.




2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel

DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for violence.

THE LOWDOWN: Shlocky but love-smitten Las Vegas magician who can see two minutes into the future is picked to save Los Angeles from nuclear terrorism.

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