'Knowing'

A man is privy to the details of upcoming disasters -- when, where and how many people will die. That man is Nicolas Cage. Knowing that, the moviegoer now makes certain calculations: Cage is not like other men. He is composed of 66 percent water, 21 percent forehead, 10 percent terrible movies and 3 percent movies that make you wonder why that other 10 percent has been so ridiculously high for so long.

And yet "Knowing" feels like an anomaly. It is something never offered by a Nicolas Cage movie. It manages to stand separate from the Nicolas Cage we've come to know while retaining that ol' bat-poop crazy we've come to expect from Nicolas Cage. Indeed, it even suggests that the Cage oeuvre -- one good film every four years, 17 bad ones -- has not been the case of a great actor throwing talent into a wood-chipper but part of a grand plan. "Two disasters left!" he shouts, in the spirit of full disclosure.

Or possibly referring to the plot.

"Knowing," which concerns a series of prophesies and horrific cataclysms, has the evangelical fervor of a movie that feels as if it were made during W's first term. Which is to say, "Knowing" is as potent a slice of disaster porn as "Left Behind." It dabbles in faith and doubt and has no patience for fence-sitters.

Until it jumps the tracks into self-righteousness, "Knowing," directed by Alex Proyas, can be as unnerving as the best episodes of "The Twilight Zone." The two big disasters in the film -- a plane crash and a subway derailment -- are intensely vivid, nightmarish enough to seem almost removed from the rest of the film. Cage plays a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who lost his wife in an accident and has to raise their son alone. They live in a dusty gothic mansion, its walls stripped of paint. Cage spends nights slouched in a chair swigging booze and questioning existence; Meanwhile, in class, he raises the difference between determinism (everything is by design) and randomness (everything means nothing).

During the opening of a time capsule, Cage's spiritual crisis deepens when his son (Chandler Canterbury) receives a letter containing seemingly random numbers, which turn out to be not so random but rather the 50-year-old work of a disturbed young girl who heard voices. In a Richard Dreyfussian fit of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"-like obsession, Cage gets all sweaty and begins to see patterns in the numbers -- dates and casualty numbers, corresponding to every major disaster from the past 50 years.

What does it all mean? Well, if you believe in determinism, then we are cogs in an unraveling cosmic joke and those dates were handed down by a higher power as a warning. Or, you could believe that young girl just guessed.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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