By Roger Moore
Nicolas Cage never lets us see him doubt what he’s playing.
“I KNOW HOW THIS SOUNDS!”
Nicolas Cage has occasion to repeat this line, time and again, in “Knowing,” an apocalyptic blend of sci-fi, horror and faith that is almost certain to be the most harrowing hooey you see in a theater this year.
“Harrowing” because director Alex Proyas (”I, Robot”; “Dark City”) and his effects team know how to stage calamities. And “hooey” because this is basically a cinematic defense of numerology, the practice of finding meaning in numbers that might to the rest of us appear random.
Cage plays John Koestler, an M.I.T. astrophysicist whose son comes home with a slip of paper he took from a newly opened time capsule. It’s covered with numbers. And dad, drinking to forget his dead wife, starts to see patterns in the numbers “09112996.”
That’s 9/11 and the death toll from the Sept. 11 attacks, written on a piece of paper by a haunted little girl whose work ended up buried beneath a school 50 years ago.
“Stay with me,” the professor tells a colleague (Ben Mendelsohn). “I KNOW HOW THIS SOUNDS.”
He breaks the code, sees other disasters in sync with other numbers. And then he finds the dates of disasters that haven’t happened yet. He seeks the child who wrote the note. She died, still flinging prophecies around, so he settles on her daughter, Diana (Rose Byrne). Koestler makes his approach.
“I know how this sounds!”
Koestler frantically heads to places where accidents will happen — spectacular, horrific crashes that will knock you back in your seat. Can he change the future?
Meanwhile the son (Chandler Canterbury) is hearing “The Whispering People.” So is Diana’s daughter. They’re being stalked by silent pale men in black trenchcoats who leave black pebbles as calling cards.
“I know how this sounds!”
The five-writer script sucks in Biblical prophecy, a nonbeliever son estranged from his preacher dad and the threat of End Times, transforming this screwy thriller into a “Left Behind” with a budget.
But Cage, bless him, sells this material. As off-the-wall as “Knowing” gets, he never lets us see him doubt what he’s playing. His chemistry with the kid isn’t good — the boy is not the most convincing child actor. Proyas doesn’t appear to have given the kid enough takes to give a convincing line reading.
And you can fault the director for shooting too much script. The dizziness of it all might not have been so obvious had we not had a long prologue and a finale that climaxes with two or three anti-climaxes, a couple of them laugh-out-loud silly. That should have been obvious in the cutting room.
But then, maybe he didn’t know how it sounded.