The question on everyone's lips, at least in my circle of friends, has tended to be "Will this be The Worst PKD Movie Ever?". My answer is...no. But that is only because this movie is an amalgamation of many of the most un-PKD elements from previous movies that bear the late author's name, to such a point that the hollywood filter has rendered this fairly far left field of any of the many stories that PKD himself crafted.
The first thing that needs to be said is this is not, with only a couple of minor aspects excepting, a retelling or movie adaptation of "Golden Man". GM is a short story about "evolutionary" paranoia, about the human race afraid of a mutatation that might overcome it. It pits the Nietzschean archetypes of the sickly priest and the "golden man" against one another. The former uses rules and tricks. The latter uses a well crafted physique, a sexual attraction and an instinct to survive. The golden man is dumb, and somewhat inherently unlikable, but undeniably attractive and "lesser folk" will flock to protect him though he does not care what happens to them. This movie is about a stage magician that is a pre-cog who fights to protect the woman he loves and the country he lives in...sort of.
How this movie diverged so much from its source material is anybody's guess. Based on press materials I saw, off and on, one person would change a couple of things (like making the golden man more human and more likable and the undeniable hero) and then another person would make a couple of things (make it be a man fighting for love). The precog abilities have been hollywoodized, rather than an instinctive ability that overrides the ability to work in the present, it is a x-man like gift. Its only "failing", that keeps it from being a Paul Atreides descent into godhood, is that it is so brief that it usually only shows the outcome of the next action, and keeps Nick Cage (because honestly the character acts, talks, walks like Nick Cage and there is no need to call him by any stage or character name, here) on his toes. As the movie wears on, it becomes more superhuman and less fallible, though this might be explained some traits in the movie.
I think the movie opens itself up as well as it could, given the premise. After a somewhat less than truthful claim that it is a PKD movie, it moves to a jumpy Nicholas Cage in a diner and then on to a scene of a cheap magic act (logically cheesy enough to be a good cover) followed by him discussing how to win money gambling. He plays it cool. Small wins so no one notices. Nothing flashy. This is followed by the "premise" scene, in which his powers are given a run for their money in said casino. There is a shakey machissimo that does not quite work, best exemplified by the car chase that comes after, but overall the general effect is a good one. A man who makes little microdecisions, almost like instinct, that keeps him one step ahead of trouble; though some of his actions aren't as good/clear as they should be. It builds into a balance.
We learn that the Julianne Moore (which not like a lot of her earlier characters, the character itself is so hard to put a thumb on, and not in a good way, that I again just sort of overlooked a name) character is after him, because of a Plot against The Country. And there is some woman (Jessica Biel) who has brought about an unexpected change in Cage's power, namely that it extends farther into the future where she is concerned. And that Peter Falk is in it, which was the highlight, for me, of the first quarter hour, though he goes in an awful hurry, which made me sad.
Much like Paycheck (the motion picture), we are faced early with a contract. The film makers have offered us an excuse to eat popcorn in a theater, something that will not touch us but we might can go home and feel like we spent a night well, or at least not poorly. In exchange, the PKD-ites are asked to not be rabid and critics are asked to let a few poorly designed special effects (along with a some "unacted" scenes and a "magical" power that occasionaly changes its nature based on the convenience of the plot) slip by. The question, in the case of both of these movies, is if the contract was validated.
For me, yeah. I suppose it was. It was at least a mostly enjoyable hour and a half if not an inspiring one. Much like Paycheck there was something missing from the final product, something that would have completed it, rounded it out more, but there was also a certain stylistic charm (if you were to trace the line from Blade Runner to Minority Report to Impostor to Paycheck you begin to see that the concept of a PKD movie is somehow becoming more about a style, a certain approach to color and staging, and a good chunk about how you like these movies are going to be increasingly about how you handle that style. I like it, have become somewhat indoctrinated to it, but the world needs more Total Recall and more Scanner Darkly before it needs another Paycheck).
On top of this, there are several scenes where the enjoyment factor falls down, where the lifeblood of the movie flatlines. The major question of whether you enjoy the movie will be the final tally of whether these scenes override the enjoyable ones for you. For me, they did not completely derail the movie, they just made me sigh from time to time. I would be curious to see deleted scenes, to see which other scenes were then cut from the final product considering a few that made it. Also equally important is if you buy the subplot of why Nick Cage is being chased by two opposing forces. I spent most of the the movie hoping for a little plot twist, the idea of two precogs fighting it out, the play on two people actively playing the future against each other. And, though it almost seems to be the case at some points...they let that potential go to waste.
I did find a few of the off-hand, "coffee shop" chatters about the questions of destiny and living the present when you are saturated in the future interesting, but they had a tendency to be wrapped in a slightly extra smarmy blanket of acting, as though the director wanted the audience to be aware that what was going on was philosophizing, not action scenes. Likewise, the glimpses to how Cage's mind must work in this film were good, but were shot in a way that could be taken as slightly overcute or, possibly, in my opinion, painful to watch. One got the feeling that his gift is a disease. This , likely, is what we were supposed to feel, given some fo the above referenced "coffe shop" speeches. A man crippled by his own powers to never quite be comfortable without worrying over almost every little detail. To this, we have questions about the sacrifice of the one versus the many, though the director seems a little bit more squeamish about allowing these questions to surface and keeps them constrained except for a few key scenes. Towards the end, though, all questions and philosophies will be ultimately put aside in exchange for action. Complete with helicopters.
I will, to wrap up the review itself, have to go on record as saying I liked the actual ending more than I thought I would.
It is not a PKD movie, but is very much so inline with the Philip Hollywood Dick (PHD, no pun intended) that has developed since PKD's death. It has the beginnings of depth, but in the end relies too much on an actor's name and cheap storyline tricks, complete with the "it's a tweest" mentality to what is real in a few places, to get too far into the necessary mire to deal with the questions of humanity that Dick preferred. It also, standard to the storylines of "his" movies, goes so far from the original material as to be nearly fraudalent to link to the source material. At the same time, not every movie is a masterpiece, and Dick's style with its tendency towards logical breaks and images that are best thought about than spelled out, sort of quasi-visual puns and the like, means there is no inherent reason to dislike this movie just because it fails PKD's original vision. I am going to put this in the "popcorn" bin and say that once I made that decision, I enjoyed it as it came. I will probably even own it, when the DVD comes about. But I do not see it ever making it to the top of any list or being anyone's favorite, unless you make a category for "movies with the most videogame like special effects during critical scenes". Then, maybe then.
Written by W Doug Bolden
For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".
"The hidden is greater than the seen."