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Knowing

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 03/20/09 13:06:21

"...and knowing is half the battle!"
1 stars (Sucks)

So the advance screening of “Knowing” was filled - well, the several rows around me were filled, anyway - by the sort of numbskulled dolts who feel obliged to talk to themselves, loudly, as they comprehend all the plot points of the movie. And “Knowing” is precisely the sort of film that encourages this, as it moves slowly in spelling out every last ounce of exposition and revelation. When Nicolas Cage writes “9/11/01” on a dry erase board, he pauses, brow furrowed; the lady behind me told her friend “Nine Eleven!”; then the guy on my left told himself “Nine Eleven!”; then the gal in front of him gasped in understanding; and then, only then, did dear ol’ Nic Cage whisper to himself, on screen: “Nine Eleven!”

But here’s the thing. The folks around me did a fine job keeping up, as best they could. They could deduce who characters were or what actions were being taken mere moments before on screen dialogue repeated that very information, spelling it out for anyone not in earshot of the narrators in my section of the multiplex. Then, little by little, the multiplex narrators started getting ahead of the movie - way, way ahead. We didn’t even need the movie anymore. The lady behind me had it figured out about an hour before the movie did.

It gets worse. Now being so far ahead of the picture, the narrators started to grow bored with it all. In one scene, Nicolas Cage’s character tells a long, somber anecdote about the death of his wife; the lady behind me listened attentively, then, at the first pause, began to tell her own story to her friend about this one time when someone she knew got shot. And it was more interesting than the movie. They did it, those maniacs: they made numbskulled doltism better than the film they should’ve been watching.

And worse still. By the end of the film, when it’s all coming to a head and Nicolas Cage is about to make the discovery we’ve waited two hours to see, the lady behind me started mocking the film. No problem, since I had been doubled over in laughter for most of the thing anyway; it’s the next bold entry in the genre of Hilariously Terrible Nicolas Cage Movies. But her? The mouthbreathing knucklehead who felt the need to shout out “Nine Eleven!”? Making fun of Nic Cage, poking a verbal stick at the logic gaps up there on the big screen? Yup.

So there you have it. “Knowing” is a movie that even the most simpleminded and least behaved among us think is stupid. Thanks, Nicolas Cage!

As you may recall, Cage was replaced a couple years back with the Cagebot 3000, a robotic Cage stimulant able to read dialogue, although not always correctly (there are awkward starts and stops throughout sentences; some lines are shouted for no real reason). Cagebot 3000’s best ability is to stand there and space out, which is interpreted, wrongly, as deep thought.

But I kid Cagebot 3000. Here, he plays John Koestler, an astrophysicist and MIT professor prone to spouting cheap exposition and donning hammy facial expressions. Everyone spouts cheap exposition here. The screenplay, credited to five writers (among them director Alex Proyas), comes across like a C-minus effort in Screenwriting 101: exposition is dropped in with zero finesse (my favorite: “I know you’re not happy being the son of a pastor!”, John’s sister tells him suddenly), and gimmicky character quirks are introduced in the opening scenes merely so they can be repeated in later scenes, creating the illusion of depth and continuity.

The film is riddled with things that never add up and never make sense, things that were likely lost or muddied during the script’s multi-year stint in rewriting hell. John’s young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), wears a hearing aid and is fluent in sign language - but he’s not deaf, you see, because, um, well, no reason, really. At one point the script had him have a hearing aid, at some other point a rewrite said he didn’t need one (he’s seen comfortably living without it often), and nobody ever bothered making a decision, so the character ends up somewhere in between, and the final script is left scrambling to deliver an excuse.

We also get a glimpse at John’s class at MIT, which, in pure Screenwriting 101 manner, is used to foreshadow the film’s themes of destiny while also revealing John to be tormented over the recent death of his wife. (An unopened present from the dead wife to John also becomes one of those see-it-now-so-we-can-use-it-later devices bad writers just adore.) The problem is, nobody who wrote this thing has the first clue about grad school-level astrophysics, and so John’s class - to a group of MIT students, let’s not forget - becomes some remedial discussion about how the sun is really hot n’ stuff.

Anyway. The plot. Caleb’s school opens a time capsule sealed fifty years prior, and the kid discovers a letter placed by some psycho girl (Lara Robinson, who also plays Psycho Girl’s modern day granddaughter later) who scrawled a heap of numbers in a not-so-meaningless series. Curious, John investigates, and within the hour he’s already cracked it (suck on that, encryption nerds!): it’s a list of every major disaster between 1959 and 2009 (or “present day,” as an on-screen caption reads, because how can audiences be expected to know that we’re in 2009?), right down to the number of dead.

John discovers there’s three more disasters predicted, and lucky for him, they’re all in the next couple of days, and they’re all within driving distance of his lush Boston-era cabin. (Something else the movie teaches us: unless you grow up to be a Psycho Girl living in a mobile home, you can afford the most luxurious property, no matter what your income!) After surviving a brutal scene where a plane crashes into an interstate - the cleverness of Proyas’ staging of the incident, all in one long take, is undone by an overuse of crass ain’t-this-awesome?! images of people burning and melting and screaming - John becomes obsessed with the next two disasters.

In another bit of tastelessness, Proyas and his writers use the second disaster to play up post-9/11 fears (perhaps showing how dated the screenplay is, thanks to use of such out-of-fashion items as the Bush-era Terror Threat Level) yet still treat the destruction of a section of Manhattan as giddy Roland Emmerich-style disaster movie fun.

Anyway again. It turns out Caleb now hears the whispery voices Psycho Girl once heard, and he’s seeing the same creepy blonde men who also stalked her way back when. John knows his son is in constant danger, which is precisely why he, as an overprotective dad (a fact previously set up by our old pal, clumsy exposition), keeps leaving him behind in crowded areas, lonely backwoods, and anywhere else the Creepy Blonde Men might be lurking. John is, let’s face it, a terrible parent who deserves to lose.

The Creepy Blonde Men and the predictions of Psycho Girl all lead up to what John believes will be the destruction of the planet itself. (Lucky for us, his astrophysicist work coincidentally involved the very same plot points that will prove this to be true, and only now, in five seconds of random typing on his computer, does he discover that years of his own studies were leading to this. Again, John is a dunderhead who deserves to lose.) The script trips over itself trying to dump in Biblical references (Ezekiel’s wheel becomes a key plot point), then trips even harder trying to ensure that such things don’t necessarily translate this into a religious movie. It wants its Revelation and its secularism, too, and the result is a half-baked in-between that’s supposed to look really, really deep, and it will, at least to those who think MIT classes are all about how the sun is, like, hot n’ stuff.

It’s all so mind-bogglingly stupid, with limp direction (Proyas repeats his “I, Robot” knack for sci-fi blandness and his “Dark City” knack for hoping things look more meaningful than they really are), lousy acting (Cagebot 3000 is the most notable, but not the lone offender), and knee-slappingly terrible writing (the sun is hot! N’ stuff!). There’s also a moose on fire, which you never get to see in a movie.

If you go, be sure to sit in the stupid loud people section, then kick back and enjoy.

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