Knowing (dir. Alex Proyas, 2008)
Watch – or don’t – as Nicolas Cage’s career takes yet another dive in a muddled supernatural apocalyptic disaster-horror Christian-parable that’ll make you wish you were watching an M. Night Shyamalan production, writes Hugh Lilly
Alex Proyas has made only two good films: The Crow and Dark City. The former is about a murdered man resurrected by a crow to track down his and his girlfriend’s murderers, and is best-known for the fact that its star, Brandon Lee, died in an on-set accident during shooting. The permanently nocturnal sci-fi mystery Dark City stars Kiefer Sutherland and Rufus Sewell as they attempt to flee an enigmatic group of individuals known as The Strangers. I, Robot, Proyas’ overblown 2003 Will Smith vehicle, stands as the worst filmic adaptation of Isaac Asmiov’s short stories to date – the less said about it, the better. The lazily-titled Knowing, his new film with Nicolas Cage, suffers, ironically, from not knowing what it wants to be: is it a science-fiction film, a horror film, a religious parable, or a disaster movie? Or is it just about a bunch of crazy Rutger Hauer-lookalike aliens?
The film begins in 1959, with an elementary school burying a time capsule on the occasion of its opening ceremony. Most of the children draw pictures to put in, as instructed. However one girl, Lucinda, unrelentingly scribbles down a seemingly-incomprehensible series of numbers relayed to her by the whispering voices in her head. Cut to fifty years later; John (Nicolas Cage) is an astrophysics lecturer at MIT and his son, Caleb – who wears a hearing aid to block out the whispering voices in his head – is at the same elementary school. The time capsule is dug up, and Caleb gets Lucinda’s double-sided page of numbers. After downing a bottle of scotch one night – John drinks because he’s still grieving for his late wife – he magically cracks the code, with the help of Google. Far from random, the numbers apparently predict the exact date, location and body count of every major disaster since the time capsule was buried-9/11 Oklahoma City, you name it, Lucinda’s insane list prophesied it. Long story short, there are just a few disasters left which John might be able to stop: a badly-CGI’d plane crash near a highway, a subway derailment in Manhattan from which survivors emerge covered in grey dust-complete with gratuitous shot of an American flag proudly billowing in the wind. Then there’s the big one: a solar flare so massive it’ll destroy the planet, killing every living organism.
John tracks down Lucinda’s daughter and granddaughter Abby, who also hears whispering voices. Relaying the rest of the film’s swiss cheese plot would ruin the ending, but suffice it to say that things work out OK for Abby and Caleb.
Cage, who hasn’t made a good decision since appearing in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation., turns in a wooden, irritatingly-sideburn-less, squinty performance here-equivalent to his work in the barely entertaining National Treasure franchise, the atrocious, never-should-have-been-made Philip K. Dick adaptation Next, and last year’s wholly unnecessary remake of Bangkok Dangerous. The other actors in Knowing appear to be from the Mel Gibson/Hayley-Joel “I See Dead People” Osment school, deliberately over-(re)acting in nearly every scene.
Proyas’ unwieldy jumble of a film is bad, but not even in a “so-bad-it’s-good” kinda way. At two hours it is almost interminably long, and the special effects are average at best-and laughably bad at worst. Marco Beltrami’s over-the-top score pummels emotion into scenes that don’t require it, and sits awkwardly alongside the two classical pieces in the film-the school band plays a selection from Holst’s The Planets at the ceremony, and the overused, regal Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th symphony would be ill-suited anywhere in a film like this, but it pops up twice. The plot seems more concerned with how to most quickly manoeuvre from explosive set-piece to explosive set-piece than with fleshing out characters or developing a coherent narrative, other than the quasi-Christian allegory toward the end. Even for fans of the end-of-the-world disaster/supernatural horror-thriller/global-warming parable quadruple-subgenre, this is one to avoid. As Ty Burr of the Boston Globe correctly summarized: “Starts off mildly ridiculous, ascends to the full-blown ludicrous, and finally sails boldly off the edge of the absolutely preposterous.”