(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Flirting with Disaster

Ask me what my favorite films were when I was a kid, and I’d have to say disaster movies ... but I don’t mean films like Glitter or Waterworld. I still have a soft spot for movies where little miniature L.A.s get wiped out by tornadoes, volcanoes and earthquakes. This is why I am giving Knowing a passing grade.

Director Alex Proyas gained a lot of fans with his atmospheric Dark City, but Knowing is a crazy hybrid of Signs, The Da Vinci Code, Nostradamus and Village of the Damned! Nicolas Cage (our most subtle and nuanced actor) plays John Koestler, a MIT professor who lost his wife in a freak hotel fire. His son is a blank-eyed youngster who comes into possession of a letter from the past that foretells disasters of the late 20th Century and beyond.

Seems a strange little girl wrote a series of numbers and buried them in a time capsule in 1959. When Koestler eyes are drawn to the numbers 9-11-01 in the series, he soon discovers that the sheet details the date, location and number of fatalities for every major disaster in the last 50 years, and a few yet to come. His son starts hearing the same whispers that the little girl did, and having visits from creepy blond Paul Bettany look-alikes in the night. Lots of Biblical allusions, including Ezekiel and the Wheel, pile up before Koestler discovers the deadly secret to the puzzle.

Once revealed, the ending renders everything that came before it ridiculous and unnecessary, although I did like the idea that religious imagery like angels are actually creepy aliens. You’ll ask yourself a lot of questions, such as, “If this list of disasters was meant as a warning, why bury it for 50 years?,” “Why can aliens read minds but not communicate in English — couldn’t they have mastered it in 50 years?” and “What is the purpose for predicting the disasters in the first place?” Knowing does have some vivid scenes of disasters, including a subway crash that will frighten even the most hardened New Yorker, but it’s in service of a dopey script that you’re better off not knowing.

UPDATE: Knowing is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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