For a long time, I thought Jessica Biel was a terrible actress, but ever since last summer's The Illusionist I've been slowly reconsidering that position. Now I find another argument in her favor: she goes through the film Next with a queer, confused look plastered on her face, admitting no other emotion, suggesting she can't figure out precisely what is happening, and she sure as hell can't figure out why.

This is a brilliant performance, for that is the only possible response to the Next screenplay.

While her costars Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore flail about trying to inhabit characters, propel a plot, and deliver improbable dialogue, Biel just stands about gaping, giving every single line she speaks an unmistakable "huh?" quality. Therefore she is both the audience's surrogate and the only actor who doesn't seem like a complete idiot at every moment.

Adapted - very loosely, I hope - from Philip K. Dick's novel The Golden Man, the movie tells the tale of Chris Johnson AKA Frank Cadillac (Cage), a Vegas magician with the ability to see forward in time two minutes. The FBI in the form of Agent Callie Ferris (Moore) hopes to use his powers to stop a group of Francophonic terrorists from nuking Los Angeles. Chris just wants to find the mysterious girl (Biel) who he's been seeing in his future, the only thing that causes him to flash farther than ten minutes, to a dingy Vegas diner at 8:09.

I did what I'm not supposed to do, which is read all of the other critics' reviews prior to seeing the movie, and so I knew that the collective opinion was that Next sucked gnats. But I kept and open mind anyway, and I will freely confess that the opening credits impressed me,* with their sketchy flickering and the way they kind of hopped forward, almost subliminally showing the next credit, or the end credits, or whathaveyou, and it was kind of clever and neat. And then the first image of the film appears, a highly overexposed, slightly oversaturated image of Biel (in Chris's flash-forward, we will soon learn) that really looks quite amazing. And for a sliver of a moment, I had hope; here was real style, and thought had been put into literally every frame I had seen so far.

Then the film's second image appears, and it's Nic Cage wearing an ugly version of a mullet. I don't know how else to describe it. His hair is long in the back, and swept back in the front, which admittedly does make him look just like a scuzzy Vegas bottom-tier hack, so kudos to somebody for that. Meanwhile, I just stare at him, and I can actually feel the quality flying away from the screen, shrivelling up and dying in agony in the face of The Hair. I am reminded of Cage's last film, Ghost Rider, in which it was The Accent that completely ruined his character for me. Cage needs to either stop being a Method actor or start being good at it, because if every one of his roles has some single sort of over-thought brain fart of character detail, I'm going to have to stop seeing his movies.

But I should not dwell on The Hair, for risk of implying that it is alone responsible for wrecking Next. It is not. Absent that very first shot, the vision of Lee Tamahori (best known for the flabby and decidedly action-deficient Bond film Die Another Day) is a grim one. There are no further lovely shots anywhere to be found; there are terribly boring action setpieces, one of which is plagued by cheap CGI, one of which is plagued by a surfeit of Nic Cages (more on that in a moment), and one of which is plagued by being so weakly staged and edited that I didn't realise it was an action setpiece until this moment. It was a car chase. A very fucking bad car chase. Tamahori is not a television veteran, by the way that phrase is usually meant, but that is his directorial style: everything is contained and made small, and he cannot choreograph action worth a damn.

Then there's the script...I do not want to talk about the script. Except that I must, for in this film the script is all. The mechanism of Chris' precognition is never explained, which I liked; but it's used in such an arbitrary and made-up way as to boggle the mind. First there is that two-minute limit, which ought to provide all sorts of tension but in practice turns out not to matter because Jessica Biel acts as a sort of signal booster that extends his range by days and weeks. Why? God knows. Then there is the matter of what Chris can actually see: he can apparently flash-forward for two whole minutes in an instant, but at the same time it takes him two minutes to view the next two minutes. And late in the game we find that he can flash multiple futures at once, which Tamahori, or perhaps his team of screenwriters, helpfully dramatises by having a whole army of Chris clones walking around a warehouse. It doesn't make any sense. At all.

Maybe it doesn't have to make sense. Maybe I'm just a whiny needy prick. At any rate, what we have at this point is "typically crappy action film that's not worth your time." Then comes THE ENDING.

I use hyperbole a lot, but I try to back down on it as quickly as possible. Not here. Next has THE SINGLE WORST ENDING of any Hollywood film I've seen in this decade. Maybe further. It is an ending that cops out in the worst way imaginable, and insults the audience to our core. The worst thing is, you can see it coming. For a long, long time. Long enough that you start to think that maybe it's such an obvious ending that they couldn't conceivably go that route. But they do. And because of THE ENDING, Next goes from being any old crappy movie to a truly great bad film, one for future generations to ponder and consider and then turn away, shuddering as they curse the fell magic that would permit such an abomination in the eyes of a merciful God to walk free upon the face of the earth.