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"Knowing," the latest film from Alex Proyas ("The Crow," "I, Robot") almost delves into M. Night Shyamalan territory — it does feature a main character much like Mel Gibson's character from "Signs" — but it saves itself with an entertaining science-fiction plot and some of the best disaster sequences I have ever seen.
The story starts off in an elementary school in 1959 with a class drawing pictures of what the future might look like for a time capsule. But one troubled girl, Lucinda, writes a series of mysterious numbers instead.
Cut to the present when John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) obtains the paper from his son. Koestler discovers that the numbers are actually dates and death tolls of disasters from 1959 to the present, save for three more events that Koestler must investigate and, of course, see for himself.
Koestler has to see the events so that we, the audience, can witness them as well. Proyas could've cut to these events and have Koestler watch them on the news, but by placing the character in the events, it adds a bit of realism to each event.
I don't want to give away what the disasters are since the shock of the first one is so great, but I will say that Proyas knows how to handle a massive, special-effects-filled catastrophe. He uses quick zooms and a shaking effect that allows the viewer to see everything clearly, but not focus on it enough to see the rough edges of computer effects. It also helps that the sound becomes blaring at each event, adding to the chaos of it.
The disasters themselves are enough to warrant the price of admission for this film and that's important because this film features some awful acting and plenty of awkward dialogue.
Cage does a good job of looking completely dumbstruck during the action scenes, but he's useless when it comes to showing emotion. The character is supposed to be disconnected due to the death of his wife, but Cage takes it too far.
Koestler's son is supposed to be extremely important to him, but Cage makes each scene between father and son so awkward that you never get the sense that these two even know each other. And the alcoholic aspect of his character was unnecessary, unless it was placed there to use as an excuse for Cage being so wooden in each scene.
When you throw Rose Byrne into the mix as Lucinda's daughter, it gets bad, "The Happening" bad. Byrne, who does a great job in her TV series "Damages," is miscast here.
She is even less convincing than Cage when it comes to parenting and when she starts yelling in the third act she becomes laughably bad.
The finale of this film might rub people the wrong way as well. It turns into a full bore science-fiction film with biblical connotations in the end and those elements were not necessarily there in the first two acts.
There are hints, of course, like Koestler's lack of faith and the mysterious people that stand in the background of many scenes and seem to be stalking Koestler and his son, but I think some people will be surprised with how far into the sci-fi genre this movie goes. I liked it, though.
Proyas, who also directed the excellent "Dark City" —check it out if you haven't seen it, and keep in mind that it came out before "The Matrix" — can make some truly thought-provoking sci-fi. The ending is different and interesting, which is something that is lacking in a lot of films today.
"Knowing" has its flaws. The acting is abysmal at times and the score can be a bit overwhelming, though that is probably because Proyas realized that he needed musical cues to tell the audience how to feel because the actors couldn't convey it.
But those problems are dwarfed by the amazing visuals during the multiple disaster sequences and the interesting sci-fi conclusion. So struggle past the acting, because Proyas more than makes up for it in action and story.
Eric Harris of Cannelton is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.