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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Next' is bag of cheap tricks

You start with a short story by one of the true sci-fi masters, Philip K. Dick, with an intriguing premise about a guy who can see into his own future and anticipate all possible outcomes of his actions.

Then you bring in an Academy Award-winning star, Nicolas Cage, who while making a lot of bad movies nevertheless manages to turn most of his action flicks into hits.

Add Oscar nominee Julianne Moore as a tenacious FBI agent and Jessica Biel for grand eye candy, then hire a director, Lee Tamahori, who may be a hack but at least has shown solid action instincts on the James Bond adventure "Die Another Day."

Toss in Peter Falk for a crusty cameo and the fine German actor Thomas Kretschmann to play the main Eurotrash villain, who aims to explode a stolen Russian nuke in Los Angeles, with Moore hunting down Cage so he can tip off the feds on when and where the blast will happen.

That all could work, right?

Not even close.

The paranormal thriller "Next" shows how a solid crew of filmmakers and performers can apply a big-studio budget to a good story idea and still have absolutely everything come out wrong.

The three screenwriters - including executive producer Gary Goldman, who worked on the Dick adaptations "Total Recall" and "Minority Report" - take only the basic clairvoyance notion from the author's story "The Golden Man" and leave behind all the nuance, cunning and weirdness that make Dick's tales so attractive in the first place.

Dick's story was set in the future, where the "golden man" was really golden, a mutant with tinted skin being hunted by a government that's paranoid over his precognitive ability. "Next" presents Cage's Cris Johnson as a guy scraping by in today's world, using his talent to see two minutes into the future to make a living as a magician and small-time gambler.

Cage, also a producer on "Next," came up with the idea of making Cris a magician, figuring such a man would use his skills to hide in plain sight so people didn't think he was a freak.

We're never given a clue how, but agent Callie Ferris (Moore) has discovered Cris' ability and accepts it so matter-of-factly, she must have been a lab partner to Fox Mulder of "The X-Files" back in FBI school.

We're also never given a clue how, but the feds know a gang of terrorists have obtained a warhead and plan to wipe out Los Angeles for unspecified reasons. Ferris convinces her boss that tracking down Cris and using him as a divining rod for nukes is the only way to stop the bad guys. So much for legwork.

Biel enters the movie as the woman Cris has been waiting for, seen in a vision as the key to his future. She looks great, acts badly, including one whispered monologue that's one of the movie's few entertaining scenes because it's so unintentionally funny.

Moore is uncharacteristically leaden, while Cage's hangdog expressions are more pronounced than usual, as though he's seen his box-office future and realized "Next" is the turkey between two hits, this past winter's "Ghost Rider" and next fall's "National Treasure" sequel.

Falk has a quick, pointless walk-on, Kretschmann shows about as much personality as Dolph Lundgren and the other anonymous feds and villains are, well, just anonymous.

A cheap plot twist near the end would be an aggravating deceit if it weren't so laughable, or if you had cared in the slightest about the characters or story up to that point.

*1/2 out of four stars.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, and some language.