By Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel
Nicolas Cage has occasion to repeat ”I know how this sounds!” 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.
The film is harrowing because director Alex Proyas (I, Robot, Dark City) and his effects team know how to stage calamities. It’s 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.
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 odd as Knowing gets, he never lets us see him doubt what he’s playing.
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. Maybe he didn’t know how it sounded.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne.
Director: Alex Proyas.
Screenwriters: Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowdon, Stiles White, Stuart Hazeldine, Alex Proyas.
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Alex Proyas, Steve Tisch.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 110 minutes. Disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language. Playing at area theaters.