It appears that “Knowing” is another one of those films that has me at a loss for words — and, as always, not in a good way.
It has me at that all-too-familiar point where not only can I not find the right words to properly summarize this confounding, schizoid flick, but I can't muster enough of an opinion to properly do so. But, of course, isn't that what you expect from a Nicolas Cage movie these days?
The once-electric thespian slums his hairpiece-covered head off (not to sound mean, but man, it's really obvious in this flick) as John Koestler, an MIT astrophysics professor who has taken care of his hearing-impaired son (Chandler Canterbury, precocious to a T) since his wife died in a hotel fire. A man who has lost his faith (oh, yes, he's the son of a preacher man!) as well as the belief that all things in life are predetermined, he swigs back whiskey glass after whiskey glass, hoping to numb the pain. (Since his Oscar-winning turn in “Leaving Las Vegas,” has there been an actor who imbibes with more cynical gusto than Cage?)
However, a paper full of numbers that his son receives from a time capsule at his elementary school wakes him from his drunken stupor. It seems that, 50 years ago, some disturbed girl wrote it. As Koestler investigates further, he learns that the numbers are the dates of natural disasters that have taken place over the past half century, along with location coordinates and the exact total of people who perished. And, as Koestler learns, there are a few more coming — including one that may be Judgment Day.
With the usually morose director Alex Proyas (“The Crow,” “Dark City”) on the case, “Knowing” is a film that proudly flaunts its haunting, complex themes (faith, the randomness vs. determinism debate, the timeless conundrum of whether one could/should alter time if that person knew what was going to happen). But, as with most ambitious studio films like this, its overeager desire to be challenging outshines its essential desire to be entertaining.
The unevenness of “Knowing” grows more overbearing with each scene. The first half of the movie is blazingly dull, as the expository scenes are meshed with scenes of monotonous theorizing that'll probably make audiences feel like they're back in high school science class.
When the catastrophes start coming in the second half (I gotta admit, Proyas can direct disaster scenes with noisy, chaotic, you-are-there intensity) and the threat of Armageddon looms larger, it begins to get interesting. The movie also throws in “whisper people,” mysterious dudes with dusters and blond dye jobs (they look like they all want to be Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) who tip Koestler's son of impending doom through his hearing aid. But the movie's unwieldy, defiantly dysfunctional attitude (it attempts to leave audiences with a sad, bleak happy ending) may have people wondering what the heck they just witnessed.
More misshapen than complex, “Knowing” has its sights set on jolting the minds of moviegoers. Much like Cage's character, you may feel like wanting to take a swig of something hard afterward. You know, to dull the pain.