Dir Alex Proyas. US. 2009. 121 mins
Nicolas Cage is a single-parent prophet of doom in Knowing, an ambitious but overwrought piece of apocalyptic sci-fi from I, Robot director Alex Proyas. Bringing his National Treasure: Book of Secrets audience to the mix, Cage should have the mainstream pulling power to make this effects-enhanced though apparently fairly modestly budgeted Summit Entertainment thriller a mid-level theatrical success and a good video performer. But the returns will still be a long way off those achieved by the more lavish movies - from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind to Signs and War of the Worlds - that Knowing sometimes resembles.
Summit gives the film an extra- wide US launch this weekend, with a PG-13 rating and a marketing campaign which emphasizes action and effects over the sci-fi elements. Pulling in the Lost crowd and genre fans in shouldn't be a problem and Knowing should quickly out-gross Cage's somewhat comparable spring 2007 release Next. Attracting more mainstream moviegoers to this fairly gloomy tale will be another matter.
International prospects appear better, given that the star's last three films (Bangkok Dangerous, National Treasure and Next) all took more internationally than domestically (by a big margin in Next's case). The performance should be especially strong in Australia, where the film was shot and where Proyas is based.
Novelist Ryne Pearson (Mercury Rising) and the team of Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (2005 chiller Boogeyman) wrote the script, which opens in 1958 with a strange young girl putting a list of apparently random numbers in a time capsule to be buried for 50 years in her school grounds. In present day Boston, the list comes into the possession of Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), the sheltered son of recently widowed astrophysics professor John Koestler (Cage).
With surprising ease, John discovers that the numbers predict the dates, locations and death tolls of every major disaster around the world over the past half-century - and of three catastrophes still to come. Setting out to try and prevent the hundreds of deaths involved, John begins to believe that the final event will be much, much bigger than he originally thought.
The mounting pressure on John and the threat to his relationship with his son give the story some of its human drama - and a couple of risible moments, as when John wails, 'How am I supposed to stop the end of the world''. Meanwhile the introduction of Diana (Rose Byrne), the unhappy daughter of the fifties schoolgirl, and her daughter Abby (Lara Robinson), rounds out the character cast.
Proyas does his best to make the flimsy premise and messy story at least intriguing, if never believable. We get a quick lesson in philosophical determinism thanks to a scene set in John's MIT lecture room and there are hints that environmental and perhaps even mystical forces may be at work. The momentum builds very slowly, however, and the story only comes to seem sillier as it goes on.
The interest level and pace pick up a bit when the strange beings who have been appearing intermittently to Caleb and Abby make their fully fledged entrance. The final half hour offers a couple of genuine surprises, but it still feels a little like a budget version of other first contact climaxes.
While there are a couple of impressive disaster scenes - the plane and subway crashes that John first predicts - Knowing's effects are not up to the standards of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters.
And most of the performances seem to be trying too hard to give the story more dramatic force. Cage is less manic than usual but he still tends to pose or grimace rather than act.
Shot with a new type of digital camera by Proyas' regular cinematographer Simon Duggan, the film has an over-saturated look that is sometimes effectively eerie but often just distracting.
Mystery Clock Cinema
US distribution/international sales
Ryne Douglas Pearson
Juliet Snowden & Stiles White