Considering Nicolas Cage’s recent cinematic batting average, Knowing probably isn’t high on anyone’s must-see list. The good news is that this sci-fi end-of-days thriller is head-and-shoulders above his last half-dozen flicks (Bangkok Dangerous, Next, National Treasure 2, Ghost Rider, and Wicker Man). The bad news: It’s not that much better.
Directed by Alex Proyas, who once showed much promise with his moody goth-fantasias Dark City and The Crow, Knowing is stunningly stylized with nightmarish imagery and thick atmospherics, but hopelessly muddled and clichéd.
Cage plays a shell-shocked MIT astrophysics professor and widowed dad, struggling to raise his obstinate son Caleb (Canterbury) while hitting the bottle each night before bed. When the boy’s school unearths a time capsule full of letters written by students 50 years ago, Caleb falls under the spell of a note written by a tormented young girl from the past. Unlike the other letters to the future, which feature sketches of rocket ships and robots, hers contains a long string of nonsensical numbers — nonsensical to everyone but an MIT egghead, who connects them to both past and future calamities. Soon mysterious figures haunt the house, Caleb starts hearing voices, and disturbing portents point to a horrific catastrophe. Joining forces with the adult daughter (Byrne) of the letter’s distraught author, Cage races against time to, yup, save the world.
The funny thing is, Knowing starts on an intriguingly paranormal note — Cage holds attention as a man spiritually wounded by the death of his wife but driven to understand the letter’s unfolding mystery. By midpoint, however, Proyas has shifted to creepy disaster-movie mode, unleashing some frighteningly violent mayhem — a plane crash in which burning survivors rush the camera and a bone-crunching subway disaster. It’s here that Cage’s deadpan brooding overstays its welcome and we wonder where the hell things are going and why we should care. Full-tilt sci-fi is the answer. The screenwriters blend Close Encounters of the Third Kind metaphysics with a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo to deliver an eye-rolling finale that even the shameless Cage can’t quite swallow. From the “I know how this sounds” dialogue to the crazy person’s news-clipping room, Knowing is a long parade of overly familiar milestones and soap-opera-ish contrivances.