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A crime before its time

Spielberg is smart and subtle in futuristic 'Minority Report'

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Imagine a future where crime and punishment don't always occur in that order. That's what Steven Spielberg does in "Minority Report," based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the late science-fiction guru whose notions inspired such popular movies as "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall."

Spielberg's picture is smarter and subtler than both of those, although its plot may prove too convoluted for fun-seeking summer audiences.

If that happens, it will add to a string of overambitious epics for Tom Cruise, whose superstar aura failed to rescue "Vanilla Sky" or "Eyes Wide Shut" from box-office blues.

The time is 2054 and the place is Washington, D.C., where no murders have occurred in years. Credit goes to a government Precrime Unit that can detect homicides before they happen, send cop squads to prevent them, and incapacitate the potential killers.

The key to this operation is a trio of "precogs," genetically unique people whose nightmares foretell dire events to come. They're kept in a state of restless semisleep, and when a vision of murder enters their collective mind, it's turned into computer images that tip off the police.

Cruise plays John Anderton, a police officer who's devoted his life to the Precrime program ever since the abduction and apparent murder of his little boy six years earlier. He's a troubled man, good at his job but addicted to drugs that numb his grief and bitterness.

His troubles get worse when the precogs peg him as the city's next would-be killer.

This seems crazy to him – he's never heard of the potential victim they name – but instantly his fellow cops are on his trail. His only hope is to evade capture and visit the murder scene at the hour of his predicted crime. He suspects it's all a setup by political forces that want to manipulate the precog program. It turns out to be a plot more sinister and personal than he foresaw.

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