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Monday, March 23, 2009

Knowing

My friends Corbett and Arlene dropped by on their way home from the Essex Cinemas this weekend and I asked, of course, what they had gone to see. Corbett got a sheepish look on her face and glanced over at Arlene, who held the expression of someone about to blow chunks. “The Nic Cage movie,” Corbett said softly. She turned to Arlene and addressed her directly. “I know, I know. I should have known better.”

And that, Dear Readers, pretty much sums it up. There are six lessons in life that everyone should have learned by the age of twelve:

1) Knowing the difference between good and bad;

2) Knowing the difference between right and wrong;

3) Knowing the difference between a thing of value and a waste of time;

4) Knowing the difference between human hair and squirrel fur;

5) Knowing the difference between a good movie and anything with Cage in it; and

6) Knowing if it isn’t about the Holocaust, it’s probably got extraterrestrials involved.

I’ve come to look at Nicolas Cage (Bangkok Dangerous) movies as the cinematic equivalent of a case of diarrhea. Sometimes it may come as a total surprise though the results might make you feel better in the end (National Treasure: Book of Secrets), but usually these things are nothing but one big sh*tty mess and you can’t wait for them to be over (Grindhouse; Next; Ghost Rider; Wickerman).

Still, Knowing better still didn’t stop me from going to see Cage’s latest “thriller”, Knowing, this past Friday. Yes, I knew going was the wrong thing to do. I knew it was bound to be bad and a total waste of time, but I did it for you, My Gentle Readers. Why? Because I care.

I’ll admit that the premise was intriguing: a little girl scribbles a page-full of numbers on some notebook paper that is included in a time capsule sealed in the ground at her school in 1959 then opened fifty years later where, miracle of miracles, a brilliant astrophysicist, John Koestler, (Cage, natch) just happens to be on hand to quickly decipher the numbers and realize that they list the dates, number of casualties, and longitudes and latitudes of horrible disasters, dozens and dozens of which have proved true in the past five decades and three of which are left on the list “scheduled” for (ta-da!) the next few days, including a final apocalyptic prediction by week’s end. Sounds interesting enough, right? Maybe in the right hands it would be, but in the twelve hands of six (!) writers, Ryne Douglas Pearson (Mercury Rising), Juliet Snowden (The Need), Stuart Hazeldine (Riverworld), Stiles White (Boogeyman), Richard Kelly (Southland Tales) and director Alex Proyas (Garage Days), Knowing is a flimsy and none-too-bright mishmash of silliness with a plot almost as absurd as the nest of laundry lint that Cage is wearing on his head and wanting us to believe is his hair.

With a warren of writers on the project you’d think that at least one might be able to come up with a logical explanation as to why Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson; Work in Progress), the nine-year-old who wrote the prophetic numbers in 1959, was “recruited” into this fifty-years-in-the-making plan to make sure… well, what exactly is the point of this supposed conspiracy? When the grand scheme of the whole movie is unspooled and you think about what does happen by the end credits, you’ll realize that there really wasn’t any purpose behind the “whispering voices” going from generation to generation since the 1959 kids have no actual bearing on the final disposition of what happens in 2009. In reality, the predictions aren’t even important to the “big event” of the movie, and those behind the predictions are going to do what they are going to do regardless of whether there is a squirrel-skin-toupee-wearing astrophysicist on their trail or not.

The best part of the film is young Chandler Canterbury (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), touching as Caleb, John’s son, who was left without a mother after a tragic fire the year before the present day story begins. Canterbury plays it perfectly while being both grown-up enough to enjoy the company of Lucinda’s nine-year-old granddaughter, Abby (also played by Robinson), but also still young enough to secretly watch video of his dead mother at night before going to sleep with tears in his eyes because he misses her so much. If only Cage was paying attention to the kid’s acting he might have picked up a few tips.

There’s not much more I can reveal about the film without spilling the (obvious) beans about the overall plot. You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out who or what is going on and where the story is headed, but I don’t want to be known as the spoiler queen. The mere thought is completely ALIEN to my nature and I swear I’d feel like THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END if I was to shoo the flies off this pile and let you see it for what it is ahead of time. So far, it’s made a ton of money, either proving that P.T. Barnum was right and there are a lot of suckers born every minute, or the young’uns knew they couldn’t grasp the complexity of the much better and more complex Duplicity this weekend, so they opted for the movie they could more easily pronounce.

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