Alex Proyas is responsible for the sci-fi noir thriller Dark City (a film which I love to no end). Nicolas Cage, despite having a career which I kindly refer to as spotty, has made some enjoyable flicks over the years, and even picked up an Oscar. The fact that this combination produced a movie such as Knowing can be met with nothing more or less than puzzled bewilderment and great sadness. I might expect something like this from a team-up with M. Night and Eric Dane, but c’mon! Ignorance truly is bliss; sometimes it’s better not to know.
The plot goes something like this: Fifty years ago a creepy little school girl who heard whispered voices (this is one of those films where the voices are real, and always right) wrote a letter containing a series of numbers (which turns out to be a series of dates and exact GPS coordinates to many future disasters) which found itself into the school’s time capsule. Years later the son (Chandler Canterbury) of a scientist finds the paper which sends his dad (Cage) into a drunken obsession about the end of the world (this is one of those movies where, yes, the world really is in danger and only Nicolas Cage can save the day). God help us all.
Rose Byrne (who I’ll bet good money was chosen for her passing resemblance to a younger Jennifer Connelly) plays the daughter of the prophetic elementary student. How she gets involved in the plot is more than a little convoluted, but, in this film that’s par for the course.
We get grief over past deaths, crises of faith, familial misunderstandings, looming evil, odd occurrences, and even twists… basically the best hits of M. Night Shyamalan. Sadly Alex Proyas isn’t content just to crib others works and gives us mysterious strangers (i.e. Dark City) lurking around every corner and bend. They aren’t as cool, but they do yell sunlight! The ridiculous nature of these strangers is only exceeded when the truth about there existence is revealed in a climax with all the metaphoric subtlety and craftsmanship of Zack Snyder.
In a film filled with issues one of the biggest is the film’s lack of focus or tone. I could never tell whether Proyas was in on the joke and was laughing along with me or actually wanted me to take these events seriously (and I’m pretty sure, from their performances, that the cast shared in my confusion). It doesn’t help that the film jumps from unintentional camp to realistic stunt sequences to involving mass death all willy nilly.
Knowing feels too much like someone else (perhaps Uwe Bowl?) attempting to make a Proyas film rather than a new offering from the director himself. I wasn’t a big fan of his take on I, Robot but this film gives me serious doubts as to whether he is even still competent to continue making films, which I guess can also be said of Nic Cage.
The film isn’t quite ridiculous enough to become MS3000-style camp on the scale of Fifth Element. It’s just bad. Mindbogglingly, insanely, stupefyingly bad. Not simply a train wreck, it’s as if all the incoming trains crashed at the station at the same time. And then the station exploded. And then it was hit by an atomic bomb.
There’s a scene late in the film where Cage drops to his knees, eyes tearing-up, looking up with confusion, anger, doubt, disbelief, and incredulity. That’s how I felt watching the film. Turns out I would have been better off not Knowing.