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03.25.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Vincent Valitutti
PHYSICS WITH AN 'F': Nicolas Cage races to prevent the apocalypse and save wee little Chandler Canterbury in 'Knowing.'

Happiness is Not 'Knowing' How This Will Turn Out

Nicolas Cage vehicle digs the actor further into his last-man-standing pigeonhole.

By Richard von Busack


You can always tell when two MIT professors meet each other, because one will ask the other, "What's on your scientific mind?" In addition to this dialogue, Knowing could have used some other methods to keep reminding us that Nic Cage is an astrophysicist. Perhaps a novelty T-shirt?

Once one of the most interesting actors in the American cinema, Cage is now the Peter Lorre of CGI: being forced, wide-eyed and ranting, to realize the shocking truth and to shrink in terror before it. Cage's John Koestler is a soul-sick man, depressed because of the loss of his wife a year before; do the math on the story as he tells it, and the unfortunate wife died just as he was blowing leaves on his lawn at 3am. Who knows how these eggheads function?

Koestler's shambly wooden house must have been renovated by David Fincher; it's exactly as described by Robert Benchley in his satire of naturalistic literature, Family Life in America: "The living room in the Twillys' house was so damp that thick, soppy moss grew all over the walls." Ignoring the decline of his home, Koestler pours the Scotch with a heavy hand and overparents his pale son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). Under some amusing circumstances involving an elementary-school time capsule, the scientist gets his hands on a sheet of numbers. When decoded, they turn out to accurately predict every disaster of the coming 50 years.

As the horrific truth gradually sets in, young Caleb finds himself pestered by megrims of his own: "whisperers" (elongated peroxided Billy Idols in Wehrmacht greatcoats, haunting the woods). They stuff the boy's head with mathematical figures and present to him a spectacle of a world in flames, including, tragically, a moose on fire. Oh, for a moose of fire.

Paying little mind to repeated news reports of increasing monkeyshines by the electromagnetic spectrum, John decides to find and harass the daughter of the original cryptographer. In a remote trailer in the woods, John and Diana (Rose Byrne) learn the secret of the numbers--and the fateful doom they contain.

After plagiarizing a forgotten novel called Childhood's End by an obscure science-fiction writer named Arthur C. Clarke, the various writers on Knowing's script set out to disprove the wisdom of the hive-mind theory by chucking it all and heading for the Bible.

Wandering into this film on a Sunday, I realized that I had walked into a Baptist church instead. The film sets you straight: terrorizing you with apocalypse, it states that faith is the only salvation, emphasizing that only by becoming like children can we learn the truth (because children are as credulous as hell, that's why).

To his credit, director Alex Proyas pours on the money shots of destruction--it's satisfying enough to see a Plymouth Air jet snapping high-tension wires and plowing up some turf outside Logan Airport. Proyas offers us the proverbial spectacular subway wreck that you can't take your eyes off, complete with POV shots of the cab for a more close-up angle on the mushing up of bystanders.

At last, the fiery grand finale at the end--but it turns out to be nearly 10 minutes of a prolix, sobbing movie, and the CGI-gray skies during the plane crash aren't realistic enough to make it all more than just a momentary wow. Knowing isn't worth the more lasting annoyance of getting proselytized in a theater, right where you'd thought you'd escaped the godly for a little while.


Movie Times KNOWING (PG-13; 120 min.), directed by Alex Proyas, written by Ryne Douglas Pearson et al., photographed by Simon Duggan and starring Nicolas Cage, plays countywide.


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