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Next (2007)

Nicolas Cage, channeling Tom Hanks’ greasy mullet in The Da Vinci Code, can see his own future but only two minutes ahead. Based on a Phillip K. Dick something or other (does it really matter at this point?), this half-baked sci-fi thriller keeps shooting itself in the foot by retreating back in time to reveal, over and over, that what was just shown was merely Cage seeing his future. Now it’s do-over time, hooray. This tricky concept is given little thought and Next hews close to tired thriller clichés and formulaic trappings. There’s the hot girl dragged into the fray (Jessica Biel, pretty but pointless), the shady government agents that need Cage’s help but don’t fully trust him, and the nondescript bad guys with a hidden nuke. Next had potential for disposable escapist entertainment, but man do they blow it big time. For a 90-minute film, there’s way too much setup and not nearly enough payoff. There’s about a grand total of two action sequences for the entire film, neither very good, and then the movie utterly collapses as half of it folds in on itself as one of Cage’s visions. In the blink of an eye, half of the movie we watch is erased; it’s a freakin’ cheat, especially when the movie slouches to a close right after. This easily forgettable sci-fi bobble is another nail in Cage’s coffin as a reliable actor.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Die Another Day (2002)

Pierce Brosnan returns for his forth outing as super-spy James Bond, this time trying to thwart, here goes, a former North Korean militant who has switched genes to look like a wealthy Anglo-Saxon playboy. And what does this stupid evildoer want? To erase minefields in Korea with a giant reflective mirror in space that channels a giant solar beam… of DOOM! Commence smacking of the forehead.

And what about Halle Berry as the requisite Bond girl? Well Berry may have an Oscar for crying but she is not terribly great in Die Another Day. She is so awful that if she sucked anymore she would physically implode. Here’s an example: she literally stabs someone with a book and glibly says, “”Read that, bitch.”” Ugh. Want another? When asked by a diamond-studded baddie, whom sent her, Berry’’s defensive reply is, ““Your Mama.”” How in the world did this person become a secret anything?

The Bond series has always been great escapist fare but its age is becoming much more apparent. Die Another Day starts with a montage of Bond being tortured in Korea. When’ he’’s released our dapper gentleman looks exactly like the American Taliban, with flowing hair and beard. He’’s been abandoned by his people out of the fear he has confessed vital info while under 14 months of torture. Yes, that’’s right folks, 14 months of torture. You think an agent like Bond, who has foiled devious plots 19 previous times, would be worth retrieving.

Brosnan is dandy and a charming actor but even he is showing some gray. It may be time to tap another into the martini-swilling shoes. Dame Judi Dench and John Cleese provide stable supporting bits, but what is Michael Madsen doing in this?

Director Lee Tamahori has directed one of the best films on self-abusive relationships ever (Once Were Warriors) and also directed one of the worst thrillers ever (Along Came a Spider). Tamahori surprisingly brings some slick touches to Bond and seems to be trying to tinker with the stagy formula, and when he gets away with it Die Another Day is thrilling. A car chase set atop a glacier is visually stunning and pulse pounding. Then this chase continues into a melting ice palace. Brilliant if not a tad bizarre. What do ice palaces go for on the open market? What’s the upkeep like?

Die Another Day is the most self-conscious of the Bond franchise with numerous homages and in-jokes. Berry’’s introduction is a direct reference to Ursula Andress classic bikini-clad ashore entrance in Dr. No. Bond confesses his relationships with women never seem to make it to second dates, despite the vigorous sex, and a female agent (Rosamund Pike) even jabs, ““I know you, sex for dinner, death for breakfast.”” The flaccid villain runs a diamond company and actually has a magazine headline that states: “”Diamonds Are Forever.”” At least the multiple writers were having some fun.

The producers that hold the Bond rights are likely as stingy about following set guidelines as the ones behind the scenes at Harry Potter. Yes James Bond always has one foot planted in the fantastic, and the emphasis will still be on girls, gadgets and gargantuan explosions, but this formula cries out for some tinkering before more damage can be done. The robust derring-do occasionally lightens Die Another Day but the franchise is starting to look like it needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if it is to survive in our Mountain Dew, XXX world of tomorrow.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Along Came a Spider (2001)

Anybody not tired of the serial killer genre yet? To that one out of the millions who raised their hand in the far back – you’re in luck! Enjoy Kiss the Girls? That same one in the back is even more fortunate. Here comes Along Came a Spider and its banality will knock you off any tuffet. Is that a word even used anymore? Spider is a continuation of the characters in Kiss the Girls (even though Spider was written before Girls). Morgan Freeman returns as Alex Cross, a hard-nosed police detective and best-selling novelist on criminal profiling. He’s suffering from Cliffhanger syndrome: the amassing of guilt from seeing someone close die in the line of duty and blaming themselves for it. See Morgan lost a female partner in a botched sting that opens the film with the worst CGI scene I’ve ever seen. He has a scene of regret then moves on to the case at hand, only to inevitably have the situation come up again and be the test of his nerves. It’s all standard cliche.

The crime that draws all our characters in revolves around the kidnapping of a Senator’s daughter at a lofty private school in Washington D.C. This is no serial killer movie, no, it’s a kidnap movie. Whatever the crime this flick centers on it still follows the superfluous serial killer movie rules to a grizzled T.

Monica Potter plays a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the girl who becomes involved with the case with her extensive knowledge of the kidnapper, Professor Sonje (Michael Wincott). Potter has previously been seen as the sad wife in Con Air, the dead chick in Patch Adams, and the girl who stars next to the guy whose acting is all about flat-lining in Head Over Heels. So in these terms Along Came a Spider is a step up. Her character is pedestrian and un-involved. She has no edge or depth and every time she’s on screen.

Freeman, God love him, needs to start learning how to say “no” to any serial killer (kidnap film) offered to him. He’s a great actor but the Alex Cross solves killers (kidnappers) franchise isn’t one to tie his rope around. Freeman does his best and brightens the film when it sags, but even he can’t save it. And his Executive Producer credit seems all the more ominous.

Naturally, an audience is left to disbelieve some of the absurdities of the genre but Along Came a Spider piles them too high and too fast to disbelieve. The kidnapper disguises himself as a plump British history teacher for a whole two YEARS in preparation for his act. Two years?! What would happen if she ever transferred? The worst part is his name – Sonje. Every time I hear the name it makes me giggle a bit. I cannot take anything seriously when the bad guy is named Sonje (“We’ll do whatever you want Sonje, just don’t harm the girl!”). Sprinkle unintentional laughter throughout. And for kidnappers and criminals these have got to be the dumbest since Colonel Klink. There is a scene where the kidnapper gives the detained child a meal… with a fork and knife! It’s like going to a prison and giving certain members scissors and leaving them alone for two hours.

If you are having a serial whatever movie you must make your serial whatever man intriguing or turn the flick into a guessing game until the end credits. The serial killer (I’m saying this now because he does kill multiple people – so there!) in Along Came a Spider is bland as can be, despite the wonderfully rich and venomous voice of Wincott. How as an audience are we to be enthralled with a whiny adversary that bores us?

There are numerous other head-smacking absurdities. Like when our ace Morgan Freeman looks to a computer belonging to a suspect and instantly remembers an off-hand remark in one conversation that of course is the password. And he even spells it correctly with an inclusion of a symbol!

The movie is based on James Patterson’s novels all seeming to have nursery rhyme style titles. Directed by Lee Tamahori (Mullholland Falls, The Edge), it has moments of briskness that at least keep the pacing alive. On its whole the film still does not work. It feels like reheated serial killer (kidnapper) movie just out of a Tupperware container. Along Came a Spider is nothing new, nothing different, and nothing truly entertaining. Pray for Morgan Freeman please.

Nate’s Grade: C-

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