Knowing starts off as director Alex Proyas’s take on Final Destination before going all Close Encounters on us. If only we hadn’t seen it all before.
John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is a brilliant man who has crawled inside a bottle after a tragedy in his life. His son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) is a bright boy but mostly raises himself since his father is so out of sorts. When his son brings home a paper full of numbers from a time capsule opens at the local grade school, John’s brilliance emerges again as he recognizes a peculiar pattern: the numbers point to tragic events in the past… and the future. As John becomes obsessed with proving the paper’s predictions are real, will he realize in time that his son is the one that ultimately needs saving?
Typical Alex Proyas film; a high-concept science fiction piece with so much going on it barely holds together. The trailers sadly give away too much information, but what sets the film apart is its familiarity. Why does it seem so familiar? The answer isn’t good, because every “money shot” seems to have been lifted from a previous film. It’s as if the writers noted their favorite recent sci-fi films, particularly their favorite sequences or special effects scenes, then wrote a script that tied them all together. While we all hope this isn’t the case, the theatrical cut provides almost nothing to dismiss the idea.
If the film’s premise wasn’t already over the top, Nicolas Cage’s performance certainly is. Don’t misunderstand; he’s a intense actor that brings even ridiculous plot threads to life by force of will alone. But like the series of scenes written from previous recent films, Cage’s performance also seems to be a montage of earlier work. One can almost wonder if he was directed to spoof himself for the comedic effect of bringing some necessary levity to an already too-serious story line. By the time Cage is driving erratically down the road screaming into a cell phone, anyone not stifling a laugh isn’t familiar with Cage’s previous body of work.
Knowing isn’t a great movie, but that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining to watch. The destructive sequences of an apocalyptic nature, whether viewed directly or implied in the background at a distance, are all top-notch effects designed to sell the story. Cage gives this character his all, proving again that barely-controlled rage is his bread and butter. With too many layers of ideas undermining the overall production, the fact that each setup leads to such familiar (and previously used) conclusions only hurts the originality of stringing these ideas together. The film’s climax is the worst offender, a showcase of beautiful destruction that exists only to show one final needless scene so we can all leave the theater with a happy feeling. Epic, too familiar, and ultimately futile.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)