Showroom magician Cris Johnson (Cage)'s secret is that he can see a few minutes into the future. The one exception is a mysterious woman he has never met, whom for some reason he keeps having visions of.
Sick of the examinations he underwent as a child and the interest of the government and medical establishment in his power, he lies low in Las Vegas, performing cheap tricks and gambling.
When a terrorist group threatens to detonate a nuclear device in Los Angeles, government agent Callie Ferris (Moore) must use all her wiles to capture Cris and convince him to help her stop the cataclysm. While running away from her, Cris runs into the woman from his visions, Liz Cooper (Biel) and they fall in love, but this endangers her as well when the terrorists find them.
This film provides examples of:
- All Just a Dream: The entire second half of the film is a vision Cris had while having sex with Liz.
- Anthropic Principle: Cris Johnson literally lives by means of this trope; he can see up to two minutes into the future at any given time, and in certain situations even further. It's as natural to him as seeing lightning before hearing thunder is to most people, and he can actually dodge an entire magazine of bullets in this manner, visualizing his alternates dropping dead in his wake.
- Anti-Climax: The ending. It is revealed that half of the movie was a vision of the future, where the nuclear bomb did go off. The film ends with Cris joining up with the FBI to stop the events of his vision from happening.
- Arc Words: "This is the thing about the future: every time you look at it, it changes, because you looked at it."
- Combat Clairvoyance: Since Cris was always seeing two minutes ahead, he was actually living two minutes ahead — but whenever he ran up against something he didn't want to happen, he would force himself to refocus back into "the present," and choose to do something different. In short, he was so tuned into his precog it worked almost more like the ability to jump backwards in time than to see the future.
- Cliffhanger: Lampshaded by the name of the motel. The film also ends on an unresolved one.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Cris has dealt with government testing since he was 3 years old under the guise of what he said they called "observed play therapy", noting enduring marathons of guessing cards (possibly the Zener cards.) When he relates to the FBI agent, his tone is scathing.
- Deliberate Injury Gambit: Cris is a man with the ability to see into the immediate future, and he knows none of his pickup lines will work on the woman he meets in a diner. Not even beating up her stalkerish ex-boyfriend gets him a good result, only allowing the boyfriend to sucker-punch him.
- Dodge the Bullet: Cris Johnson can see two minutes into the future and play out various scenarios in order to pick the best outcome. At one point in the movie, he finds himself up against a terrorist with a fully loaded gun. From our perspective, we get to see him split off in various directions in an attempt to dodge all the bullets complete with each false choice getting shot and disappearing until only one is left standing, the one outcome where he successfully dodged all the bullets.
- Eye Open: Done with Cris's eye twice, once before and once after his long vision of a possible future.
- Flash Forward: The movie was all about how Cris could see two minutes into the future (unless certain conditions were met), and play it over and over again in his mind until he found the optimal path to take (typically one that didn't end up with him being shot or getting the crap beat out of him).
- The Gambler: Cris uses his powers to win at gambling, though only enough to scrape by, but not enough to pay attention.
- Girl of My Dreams: Liz is this to Cris. She has been the first person to defy the limits of his powers and thus, have become someone of interest of him. He ends up falling for her.
- Good is Not Nice: Agent Ferris wants to protect America...but isn't above exploiting Cris or coercing him into assisting the government.
- I Know You're Watching Me: The precognitive protagonist Cris is cheating at blackjack and several casino security officers are watching him on surveillance, trying to figure out how he's doing it. When someone realizes they recognize him, Cris looks up as though he heard his name being called, stares knowingly at the camera they're watching him through, and casually walks away before any security guards can apprehend him.
- In Name Only: The film is based on Philip K. Dick's The Golden Man, and differs greatly from its source material even for a movie based on a Philip K Dick story: Both share the general idea of the government trying to capture a main character who has the ability to foresee the immediate impact of anything he does before he does it. However, the setting, the main character's background, personality, and appearance, and what the government wants with him are all changed beyond recognition: In the original story, it was a post-apocalyptic future, the main character was a golden-skinned, non-sapient mutant, and the government was trying to wipe out all mutants with superhuman powers. On the other hand, the film takes place in the present, where the main character is a perfectly normal-looking, sapient human, and the government wants him to use his abilities to help them stop a nuclear threat. Reportedly, the original script was much more faithful to the source material before some drastic rewrites kicked in.
- Loser Gets the Girl: See Deliberate Injury Gambit above.
- Magicians Are Wizards: Cris states the best way to hide his powers is to use them in his act (where he can disguise them as a cold reading).
- Mental Time Travel: The premise of the film.
- Misapplied Phlebotinum: Any one who actually has psychic powers could make tons of cash at Las Vegas instead of appearing on talk shows. As Jay Leno once said, "Why do you never see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?" Answer: Because when a psychic wins, he doesn't tell he's psychic. 'Cause, you know, some people might dare accuse him of cheating. This is actually Lampshaded in the film. Also justified since the psychic in question knows he's being hunted down by the government and thus keeps his wins small to avoid attracting attention.
- Multiple-Choice Future: "Every time you look at the future, it changes, because you looked at it."
- Mundane Utility: Cris uses his powers to earn a very modest living as a Stage Magician.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Cris decides to save Agent Ferris from falling rocks, which results in his capture. Actually Lampshaded verbatim by Agent Ferris after she smugly takes advantage of Cris' good nature in this exact manner in order to capture him.
- Paranormal Gambling Advantage: Cris uses his ability to see the future to work as a psychic and to win big in the casinos he frequents and works in, as well as to avoid the security team when he has a vision of being detained for cheating.
- The Power of Love: Cris's precognitive abilities only allow him to see up to 2 minutes into his own future, except, for no apparent reason, for one recurring vision that presages the arrival of his eventual love interest. Once he's finally met and slept with her, he can see further ahead than ever before. And by that we mean the couple of days that cover the rest of the film, beginning right during the love scene.
- Psychic Powers: Cris, a precognitive who can always see two minutes into the future.
- Retconjuration: A very odd and limited example. As noted above, he was so in tuned with precognitive abilities that he was actually always doing things as if he was living two minutes ahead naturally. When he would run into something he didn't want to happen, he forced himself into viewing the world in normal time and act to defy the original vision, making it appear as if he's doing this.
- Save Scumming: The movie essentially featured a character capable of doing this in real life. Being able to see two minutes into your future has its perks.
- Screw Destiny: The whole movie's tagline is that "If you can see the future, you can save it."
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Averted. It is made absolutely clear that anytime he looks into the future, it will change. Because he's seen it. Essentially, this is the uncertainty principle as applied to time.
- Stage Magician: Cris does this using his powers.
- Stock Desert Interstate: Cris travels through Flagstaff which feels and looks a lot like a stereotypical Southwest Desert.
- Terrorists Without a Cause: The terrorist group that is the Big Bad of this film wishes to set off a nuke in a major American harbor for… no explained reason, really. Nobody ever mentions the group's goals, or if they have any demands, or are given any name or history (either as a group or individual members) beyond "terrorists"; and the only thing we hear the bad guys say are the typical things movie bad guys scream in the middle of a firefight, in French.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Cris braces for his Deliberate Injury Gambit to meet a woman with a deadpan "Incoming!".
- Train Escape: Thanks to Cris's future-viewing powers, we get to see him both crash into the train and escape thanks to it.
- Western Terrorists: The bad guys are a racist group of apparently Francophone Europeans, except the sniper that swears in Croatian.