March 26, 2009

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Knowing (PG-13)
Nicolas Cage finds a mysterious letter that can predict disaster (though, unfortunately, it did not predict this movie) in Knowing, a ridiculous bit of apocalyptic action fluff.

Back in 1959, the Leave-it-to-Beaver-ishly dressed class of an autumnally-enhanced Massachusetts elementary school buried a time capsule for the Children of Tomorrow. Everybody drew crayoned pictures of robots and spacemen but creepy eye-circle-having little Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson) filled a page with numbers, movie crazy-person-style.

Flash forward to roughly now and elementary school student Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury) is there when his class digs up the capsule. Everybody gets a crayoned picture and his, naturally, is the number-filled page by Lucinda. And, just like Lucinda used to, he can now hear a mysterious staticy whispering. Unlike Lucinda, Caleb has a hearing aid, so when the whispering gets creepy (immediately), he can turn the device down.

Would that the audience had such a luxury.

Caleb’s dad John (Nicolas Cage) is a mopeypants science professor prone to drinking himself to sleep on account of his sadness over his dead wife (via fire — a minor disaster, a-hem). During such a boozing, he accidentally sets a glass down on the page of numbers and then picks it up, leaving a bourbony ring. The ring circles a grouping of numbers, among them 091101 — guess what that means? He soon finds out that the number appearing next to the cheap, unearned shock-numerals corresponds with the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks. Then, he scans the other numbers on the page, finding decades’ worth of fires, floods, earthquakes and other catastrophes with high body counts. And not all of those numbers appear to correspond to past events — the time capsule number page predicts several disasters in the future.

Because there has to be some running around between the uncovering of the plot-motivating gimmick and the big pay-off disaster, Lucinda’s daughter Diana (Rose Byrne) and her daughter are introduced into the mix (she’s also a single parent, of course). And, to some extent, she doesn’t add a whole lot to the story once the “lots of people will die” wheel starts turning but she does contribute a truly, deliciously absurd scene in which an increasingly hysterical Diana is screaming into a phone at John that they have to “think about the children!!!!” No, that is not enough exclamation points. There might not be enough exclamation points to accurately depict how an actress known for work on a prestige show like Damages kicks into chomping-the-scenery mode.

What’s even better is that in a movie of unintentionally hilarious scenes, that’s not even the first one. It might not even be the one I laughed the loudest at. Knowing starts out as the same kind of over-serious Cage oddity as Next or Bangkok Dangerous but then takes an even weirder than usual turn, with full Martians-are-invading-the-Earth 1950s B-movie sci-fi operatic score, and, by the end, it has spun out into total crazyland, complete with pale-suit-wearing men in black and menacing weather patterns. I deeply wish I could in more detail discuss the ending — it is so startlingly “what the hell” that it is the kind of thing that stays with you long after you’ve left the movie, providing fodder for potentially hours of “what were they thinking.” The final scenes are almost brilliantly bizarre, as though the film-makers were playing a game of “what’s the weirdest thing we could have happen next.”

I almost want to recommend this movie — that’s how strange and awful it is. Were it not for the time and money you’d never get back, I’d suggest that you gather a large group of friends, see the movie and then open some large bottles of wine (who knows — maybe the less sober you become, the more the movie makes sense). As it is, I don’t know that a derisive laugh — even one this big — is worth the expense. D

Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language. Directed by Alex Proyas and written by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, Stuart Hazeldine and Richard Kelly, Knowing is two hours and one minute long and distributed in wide release by Summit Entertainment.