Knowing (Summit Entertainment, PG-13)

knowing-header.jpgIt’s only March but already there’s a frontrunner for worst movie of the year.

 

 

 

 

Lara Robinson and Nicolas Cage in Knowing.

 

It’s only March but already there’s a frontrunner for worst movie of the year, with potential nominations in several ancillary categories including most extreme overacting, greatest quantity and quality of plot holes, most egregious exploitation of a dead composer (what did Beethoven ever do to deserve this?), and cheesiest CGI. On the positive side, it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in quite a while, although of course the humor is quite unintentional.

What film offers so many superlatives in exchange for your movie-going dollar? It’s Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicolas Cage. Mr. Proyas seems to be reverting to his music video roots, because while he occasionally comes up with a striking image, the twin arts of sustaining a narrative and of creating believable characters that change and develop over the course of a two-hour film totally elude his grasp. Instead of plot we get a mish-mash of clichés and symbols, and in place of character we get a collection of stereotypes that lurch wildly from one emotion to another without ever convincing us of their humanity. He’s also unable to establish a sense of either chronology or geography, and the film seems to have been cut severely for length without concern for maintaining continuity.

I’m not kidding about the humor, though. The screening audience regularly cracked up at what were clearly meant to be moments of high emotion and meaning. While nearly every aspect of the film contributed at least one moment to this effect, much blame can be laid at the feet of Mr. Cage, who seems to have forgotten that he was once a respected actor. Or maybe the guy who won an Oscar for Leaving Los Vegas was kidnapped by space aliens (it’s no more improbable than the plot of Knowing) and replaced by the body double seen in efforts such as The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous and now Knowing as well.

But back to the matter at hand. The story of Knowing is all about secret messages and the incipient end of the world and big important stuff like that. Fifty years ago, schoolgirl Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), who looks like she walked out of a Diane Arbus photograph, contributed a handwritten sheet of apparently random numbers to a time capsule buried at her school. In the present time, the capsule is unearthed and the contents disbursed to current students at the school. The sheet with numbers is given to Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), who lives with his widowed father John Koestler (Cage) in a huge home in the woods near Cambridge, MA, where Dad teaches astrophysics at MIT. Father and son aren’t getting along that well, and Dad drinks a lot when he’s not teaching his classes using models of the solar system which would not be out of place in an elementary school classroom.

After setting his whiskey glass down on the sheet of mysterious numbers, John sees a pattern, which turns out to be the date of 9/11/2001 and the exact number of people that died in the terrorist attacks that day. So he gets busy transcribing the numbers and circling dates and numbers of casualties, every one of which is confirmed by internet searches. And they all happened after the sheet was buried in the time capsule. Then he discovers that the mysterious intervening numbers are geographic coordinates of the disasters in question, which convinces even his skeptical colleague Phil (Ben Mendelsohn) that the numbers are not random, but prophecy. And wouldn’t you know that some of the dates are in the future, meaning that they predict catastrophes that haven’t happened yet, and one in particular seems destined to strike very close to home.

And there’s more. John finds the daughter and granddaughter of Lucinda, and despite his initially acting like a scary stalker they form a sort of proto-family. Smooth black pebbles keep appearing where they don’t belong, and mysterious shadowy beings in long black dusters (the kids call them "the whisperers" because that’s how they communicate) appear and disappear in the woods. Several disasters are played out before our eyes, with some of the most inept CGI it’s been my pleasure to observe. There’s an extended chase scene about which the less said, the better, electronic devices fail and revive as it suits the plot, and there’s lots of expressive weather and thuddingly obvious music to cue the emotional import of each moment. All of this leads to a conclusion which makes me think the whole film is a stealth effort to promote Intelligent Design. Fortunately, it’s so inept that the effect is likely to be quite the opposite.

I gave up trying to catalogue the impossibilities, improbabilities, and inconsistencies in Knowing, but I’m sure my colleagues on the internet will do a fine job of it. Seldom has one movie offered so much fertile ground for ridicule: Knowing is the single best argument I can think of for reviving Mystery Science Theatre 3000. | Sarah Boslaugh

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