Friday, April 3, 2009

Knowing (Film)

Escape Artists/Summit Entertainment, 121 minutes

Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson, et al.

Can you predict the future? Do you hear voices in your head? Are you prone to scratching numbers into desktops and doors with your fingers until they are bloody?

If your answer to these questions is “no,” then you are not among the chosen. You are doomed to perish with the rest of us, in an apocalypse that may be coming sooner than you think. That is, if you believe Knowing, a science-fiction thriller by director Alex Proyas.

The film invokes an intriguing question: Is the world predetermined, or is it random? Rather than to engage the issue, however, Mr. Proyas smothers it in a preposterous hodgepodge of pseudo-science, biblical allusions and assembly-line mystery elements.

Knowing’s hero is widower and single dad John Koestler. An astrophysicist wrestling with the concept of predetermination since his wife died in a tragic accident, Koestler is portrayed by Nicolas Cage as a loving, generically sullen and absentminded father.

Through his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), Koestler comes in possession of a coded message written in 1959, which seems to predict many disasters of the last 50 years. When Koestler decodes the message, three more are left, resulting in a frantic race against time.

Nominally, Rose Byrne and Lara Robinson are the film’s female co-stars, but the chief contribution of their characters is to complicate the plot in the second half—a function which might also have been served by, say, a really big rock.

Knowing is not without its moments. The first few minutes, set in 1959, succeed in creating tension and setting an eerie and thrilling tone. Some of the disasters portrayed in the film are intense and real enough to make you reconsider ever boarding another plane or subway train.

But the longer the plot grinds on, the more absurd and eye-rollingly corny the film becomes. For instance, the characters are stalked by a group of strangers who don’t speak, but point at things a lot, and whose looks and poses bring to mind every dark-wave music video that ever ran on MTV in the 1980s. It takes effort to stifle a groan whenever they appear.

In a particularly bad scene, Koestler—or is that Cage?—blanks out during a lecture on the subject of predetermination; he then confesses to his students his personal belief on the issue, which is that “shit just happens.” Sometimes, evidently, so do movies.

Grade: D+

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