“Knowing” is an early contender for worst movie of the year, if only because it takes itself so seriously and its ambitions are so high.
Pity, too, because it begins with an intriguing premise.
Nicolas Cage stars as MIT astrophysics professor John Koestler, the widower father of 10-year-old Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). When Caleb and his classmates examine the contents of a time capsule that students at his elementary school buried 50 years earlier, the boy discovers a sealed letter containing row after row of jumbled numbers.
Being a scientist, Dad wonders whether there’s a pattern to them, and in a whiskey-infused stupor realizes the message accurately predicts the date, coordinates and number of dead in every major disaster since 1959 â the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, you name it. That’s sufficiently creepy alone â until John looks closer and finds there are still a few events to come.
He tracks down Diana (Rose Byrne), the grown-up daughter of the little girl who originally scribbled those numbers who’s now the mother of a girl about Caleb’s age (Lara Robinson), hoping for clues to prevent the ultimate catastrophe that lies ahead.
And here’s where things literally go off the rails.
Cage underplays it for about the first half, until he suddenly rejects his stoic visage in favor of eye-bulging screaming and flailing. Similarly, director Alex Proyas (“The Crow,” “I, Robot”) goes from an eerie, atmospheric mood to an insufferable onslaught, with obviously fake CGI effects and a deafening, bombastic score. An early plane crash has its startling moments, but a New York subway accident later on looks distractingly artificial.
Written by Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, “Knowing” raises some thought-provoking, philosophical questions about randomness vs. determination, only to abandon them for biblical mumbo-jumbo and cheap scares. Byrne gets especially shaky and shrill as the film approaches one of its many climaxes; it’s as if she and Cage are in a contest to see who can shriek the loudest.
As the threat of the apocalypse draws closer, the level of ridiculousness gets pumped up to unintentionally hilarious levels. Mysterious black rocks appear everywhere â the sign of something that’s never quite clear. Caleb and Diana’s daughter, Abby, start hearing the same sorts of whispers that tormented Diana’s mother a half-century earlier (also played by Robinson), only they’re not freaked out about them. Then a group of odd dudes who look like an albino boy band seem to show up out of nowhere, everywhere, to pester these kids.
And so it’s not even remotely terrifying when John screams, “How am I supposed to stop the end of the world?!” â it’s just laugh-out-loud funny.
Surely Kirk Cameron, star of so many the-end-is-nigh movies, would know what to do.