[Screen It]

(2009) (Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: A professor discovers that a time capsule unearthed at his son's elementary school contains a list of disasters that have occurred during the intervening 50 years as well as several that have yet to happen.
John Koestler (NICOLAS CAGE) is a professor at M.I.T. who's recently lost his wife and thus is raising their son, Caleb (CHANDLER CANTERBURY), by himself, and in a highly protective manner. That's of concern to John's sister, Grace (NADIA TOWNSEND), but he assures her he's fine, especially after a drink or two at night.

Yet, things grow more complex when a time capsule opening at Caleb's elementary school presents the students with views of their predecessors' predictions about the future. While most are drawings, the one Caleb opens is from former student Lucinda Embry (LARA ROBINSON) and consists of just a page of seemingly random numbers.

After some investigation and ciphering of them, John comes to the unlikely but startling conclusion that they're sequential sets that correctly predicted the dates of deadly calamities around the world, accompanied by the number of related fatalities. Equally troubling is the fact that a small number of strangers have shown up with an interest in Caleb and are trying to communicate with him via some sort of whispering, and they may or may not have anything to do with the list's three sets of disasters that have yet to occur.

When the next one does and John knows he isn't going crazy with his hypothesis, he understands he must learn more about Lucinda. After learning she previously died, he visits her adult daughter, Diana Wayland (ROSE BYRNE), a single mom to Abby (LARA ROBINSON). With an apparent catastrophe of unbelievable magnitude on the horizon, John and Diana -- who's initially reluctant to help -- set out to figure out what that will be and where it will occur.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Picture this: A man watches as his son participates in the unearthing of a time capsule buried fifty years earlier by school children now deep into middle-age. Inside is a piece of paper, filled with sequences of numbers that turn out to have predicted bombs. Not the kind filled with explosives, but the variety better identified with dismal failures or outright fiascos. You know, the kind that populate movie theaters year in and year out.

While the list proves itself accurate based on predictions that have already come true, it also contains upcoming releases destined for critical and/or box office failure. From that point on, the man races against time to prevent those films from ever seeing the light of day, or least that of a projector, thus saving the masses from exposure to another deadly piece of filmmaking. And by doing so, he becomes a hero to moviegoers and reviewers alike.

Alas, "Knowing" isn't about that, although if it was, its title would likely be on that list within the film, thus providing an interesting circular bit exposing the long-standing battle of randomness vs. predetermination. Do bad films -- as well as ones that squander their potential via various means -- simply happen by chance, or is there some reasoning behind their existence? Are the cinematic gods vindictive sorts who like to unleash such efforts onto viewers, or do they do so in order to make the good and great films look that much better in comparison?

Such questions might run across many a viewer's mind while watching director Alex Proyas ("I, Robot," "Dark City") let a decent and compelling idea from screenwriters Ryne Pearson and Juliet Snowden & Stiles White and Stuart Hazeldine slip through his fingers and crash to the theater floor already littered with so many other failed efforts. That's because despite the presence of some technically amazing -- if fairly unnerving and/or disturbing -- disaster sequences, the underlying story idea, and the notion of free will vs. predetermination as filtered through interesting if flawed interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation, the film gets progressively sillier and/or more unbelievable as it unfolds.

And that's despite buying into the story idea of a hastily written bit of channeled prognostication by a school child 50 years ago including numerical code pinpointing the whens and wheres of disaster and calamities over the intervening years. In fact, and without giving away the conclusion's big surprise (which really isn't that surprising, shocking and/or compelling due to how things are handled), this efforts feels quite a bit like Jim Carrey's "The Number 23" and Julianne Moore's "The Forgotten" in terms of cool potential being squandered.

Besides the ultimate explanation of why and what's happening ending up being far more goofy than profound, moving or horrifying (despite yet another technically cool special effects extravaganza), much of that stems from the presence of and performance by Nicolas Cage. Now pretty much the kiss of death for most any film in which he appears (at least from an artistic standpoint -- some of them still make decent to boatload amounts of money), the actor who was once so engagingly quirky ("Peggy Sue Got Married," "Raising Arizona") or able to really act ("Leaving Las Vegas") strains himself with a melodramatic performance that simply doesn't work (including the obligatory loss of a spouse element, alcoholism and such).

Since we don't believe in his character any more than the quickly unraveling and increasingly preposterous plot, we don't really care about him or his quest. Granted, the latter constitutes the debate over whether his character should even try to intervene if things are predetermined.

Yet, Proyas and company seem far more interested in the religious elements that are subtly and then not so subtly put into play, from the concluding Biblical metaphor (which could divide Christian viewers into liking the notion or considering it as blasphemy) following the apparent Apocalypse to the general notions of the hereafter. That's all fine and dandy, but since we don't really care and the movie ends up painting itself into a preposterous corner from which it can't escape, most if not all of that's for naught.

Containing a fun and interesting premise but flawed execution of the related elements, "Knowing" isn't a bomb along the lines of "Ishtar" or "Pluto Nash" (two films that would certainly be on such a list of cinematic prognostication), but its squandering of potential makes one wish someone could have found and stopped it or at least altered the way it plays out. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 16, 2009 / Posted March 20, 2009

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