I should have listened to the voices in my own head. I saw a clever, quasi-sci-fi premise in the movie trailer, but I told myself that like others before it (See also Number 23, or The Happening), the writers will not be able to carry the premise to an interesting conclusion. Add to that Nicolas Cage, my automatic -1 on any movie, and I really should have stayed away.
Knowing has Nicholas Cage playing an MIT professor who teaches a class on space, and apparently also about whether life is pre-determined or random (y’see that’s his personal fixation ever since his wife died). That theme comes in handy when his son’s school opens up a time capsule from 50 years ago. The envelope little Caleb receives contains a sheet of paper full of numbers that don’t make any sense — at least not until Cage pulled an all-nighter on Google and discovers that the numbers correspond to the dates and death tolls of all the major disasters for the past 50 years. So begins his obsession with this list, and a crazy quest to either stop or be present for the disasters still to come. If you think that’s wacky, you ain’t seen nothing like the last third of this movie which goes completely off-the-rails (I’m tempted to spoil it for you just so you won’t waste your time going to see it).
Director Alex Proyas has shown lots of sci-fi potential, directing films such as the noir-ish classic Dark City and the more recent Will Smith vehicle, I, Robot. This time around he has the chance to play at being M. Night Shyamalan with this mysterious thriller. He doesn’t quite get the subtlety of Shyamalan. Knowing feels too much like cheap horror and not enough like unfurling mystery (even the musical score is like Hitchcock with the volume way up). He also couldn’t resist throwing in some creepy men-in-black who look surprisingly like The Strangers from Dark City (all albino with black trench coats). This movie could have been so much better with a lighter touch. Keep Cage from going all manic-obsessive, and Rose Byrne (the requisite female who either believes our crazy hero or doesn’t) herself is freaking out — she’s intimately connected with the numbers, so it’s a bit more forgivable from her. Shyamalan’s The Happening may have been a huge flop, but Proyas is still no Shyamalan.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t help matters that the acting in this movie is terrible. Cage does not show any of the believe-in-me charm that he turned on in the National Treasure movies. Instead he’s an I’m-not-listening-to-you zombie who makes stupid choices. C’mon, even if you know where the next big disaster is going to happen, do you realistically think the police are going to listen to you when phone, demanding them to cordon off a busy Manhattan street corner? And why on earth would you actually go there and ask the first cop you see why they haven’t done it? (Cuckoo!)
I am incredibly surprised at the success (so far) of this movie — $9 million on a Friday. The theater was full when I went there — full of teenagers no less — and supposedly this movie is set to win the weekend. I admit that I am partial to M. Night Shyamalan, so I can’t accept that this movie is more successful than The Happening. What’s Knowing got that The Happening doesn’t? They’re both terrible. (2.5 out of 5)