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Rapid Reviews – Knowing

July 26, 2009

Say what you will about Nicholas Cage – he dons some of the world’s worst hairpieces, there’s more botulinum toxin in his forehead than in a can of bad peaches, he chews the scenery like it’s Bubblicious – but the man gets a lifetime pass from me for Raising Arizona and Adaptation, and at worst, he’s always entertaining to watch (not always for the right reasons, but still).  In Knowing, he’s not anywhere near his best, and I’m starting to think those days are long behind him, but for the first half of the movie, he seems to rein in his worst impulses (and drink a crazy amount of scotch).  The closer we get to the climax though, the more we see Nick Cage, overACTOR.

Of course, the movie does him no favors in the second half.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say the first half is good, but it is at least intriguing and has two excellent disaster set pieces.  But by the end, the movie has gone so far off the rails that I had to reexamine what I thought about the entire thing.  What I thought was this – the premise that is the backbone of the movie makes no damn sense. If you have premonitions about every disaster (if you’ve seen the trailer, you know it’s a series of numbers that lists the date, location, and death toll) to happen in the latter half of the 20th century, why bury that knowledge in a time capsule for 50 years until all but three of those disasters have already happened?  Or more precisely (minor spoiler alert), if you’re going to give someone premonitions about these disasters, why give them to a schoolgirl who is going to write them down to be put in a time capsule for 50 years?  And how the hell did they have knowledge of the future to begin with?  I know, I know.  I should suspend my disbelief, and I would, but the movie doesn’t give me anything to suspend from (how about some belief monkey bars?).  They seem to imply that the knowledge is scientific, but never explain how.  Really, there are whole chunks of the plot that could be excised, and it wouldn’t make one single difference in the climax (which I won’t ruin here because there’s some ballsiness to one aspect of it and such utter ridiculousness to the other aspect that I don’t want to spoil your fun).

There’s a moment early in the movie in which characters have a discussion about randomness versus determinism.  In other words, are the events of the universe only a series of random occurrences, or is every event determined by a causal relationship to all previous events?  Had the movie delved deeper into these ideas and made a compelling case for premonition being deterministic rather than supernatural, we might have had a really smart sci fi film. Instead, it seems the writers came up with the high-concept time capsule idea and then had no idea what to really do with it so they splashed in a little philosophy and a whole lot of deus ex machina.

On the bright side, I thought a lot more about this movie than 90% of the movies I see.  Most of the stuff I thought about wasn’t on the screen, but the stuff on screen did serve as a trigger, so I’ll give it some credit for that.

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