April 16, 2009

And Knowing is Half the Battle

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...

An occasional Rant feature

Today's Feature: Knowing.

THE BOOK OF MATTHEW tells us that no man knoweth the day nor the hour of Christ's return. In modern times, various wits have used Matthew 25:13 to reflect on man's mortality. With "Knowing," a not all that great science fiction film from director Alex Proyas, questions about such matters naturally present themselves to the viewer. Questions such as, "God, if you're really going to end the world, could you do it with a bit more suspense?"

Yes, "Knowing" is disappointing. Really disappointing, actually, although not entirely bad. The special effects are quite well done, there is one (1) scene of cinematic brilliance that hits all the right notes, and there was one throw-away quip at which I chuckled. Other than that, though -- God, what a stinker.

It's especially annoying because there are bunches of similarities with Proyas' "Dark City" -- and I mean bunches -- except they make clear just how much better "Dark City" was in comparison. Here's just a few, though, to whet your appetite. Consider: both heroes are named "John." Consider: both lead actresses are willowy brunettes. Consider: both movies' supposed bad guys are overcoat-wearing space aliens bent on harvesting man's potential for their own ends. Yet in all three instances, "Knowing" comes up short.

In "Dark City," Rufus Sewell played the man desperately attempting to solve the riddle facing him. In "Knowing," we got Nicholas Cage, whose delivery is ... well, a bit wooden at times. In "Dark City," the lead actress was Jennifer Connolly, of whom I approve. In "Knowing," the lead actress was Rose Byrne, of whom I also approve but who is the poor man's version of Jennifer Connolly. In "Dark City," the motives of the overcoat-wearing space aliens are explained and actually make sense. In "Knowing," the overcoat-wearing space aliens are -- well, as Joe Neumaier put it in the New York Daily News, "Rutger Hauer's family reunion."

Now, you can get away with this type of thing if you're a genius. Like Philip K. Dick. Philip K. Dick was a genius and relied on many of the same stock characters in his novels, and it worked because the man was brilliant. The people behind "Knowing" are not geniuses, so it doesn't work here. If they were, they would have made a blockbuster.

Anyway, here's the plot. Nicholas Cage plays *cough* Jeff Goldblum *cough* in the role of John Koestler, an widowed astrophysicist who has not gotten over the death of his beautiful wife. Mrs K, you see, had the good sense to die prior to the events of the film because she knew it would turn out iffy. This conceit, by the way, is one of the tell-tale signs that one is watching a science fiction movie, because in the real world the beautiful wife would have married Arthur Miller or something.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Prof Koestler is an astrophyicist, widowed, with a young son. The young son in question is bedeviled because of his loss, and also because the Rutger Hauer Band is channeling into his mind.

As it happened, some 50 years earlier, the elementary school the boy now attends decided to commemorate its opening through creating a time capsule. A student at this school, a tortured young girl who also gets messages from beyond, writes out a message to the future -- in the form of a string of numbers. Fast forward 50 years later, and John's boy gets the envelope with the code in it. One idle evening, Prof Koestler looks over the code and tries to crack it.

John's path -- and that of his boy -- cross with a woman, Diana Wayland, and her daughter, who like the boy is also getting various messages from the otherworldly alien types. Conveniently, Mrs W is the daughter of the girl who wrote out the code half a century ago. Although the girl from the Fifties has herself died, Mrs W is well aware of the code and the warnings contained therein. As such, all four team up in an attempt to save humanity (or at least, themselves) from the doom that may await them.

Of course, this goes to show how stupid the aliens are. After all, consider: you're trying to warn the people of Earth that something is Very, Very Wrong. Clearly the natural course of action is to give your message to a bunch of kids and an astrophysicist -- and not only an astrophysicist, but one who spends his days teaching undergraduates. Then you go around frightening people instead of sending them letters in the post.

And let's be honest: Prof K is not the brightest star in the night sky, either. For one thing, consider where the guy lives. He lives in a semi-restored old Victorian that manages not only to be pretentious and twee, but also the type of place that screams, "Look at me! I pay $5 for a cup of coffee!" True, he does show some flashes of brilliance -- he apparently manages to legally acquire a revolver in no time at all, despite living in Massachusetts -- but then he never actually uses the weapon when any normal person would be kicking alien ass.

Even the ending was a let-down, although there was one particularly good scene in it, which I won't spoil. But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.

Everything about tonight's movie-going experience was a bit blah. This ranged from the stupid preview for one of the summer's latest stupid flicks for teenagers, in which various pretty sorority girls are dispatched one-by-one for accidentally knocking off one of their sisters, to the stupid preview for a direct-to-video movie for children. The sappy moral message of this film, based on the snippet I saw in the theatre, was that a person can do anything he wants, provided he believes in himself.

Kids? We lie.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 16, 2009 10:40 PM | TrackBack
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