‘Knowing’ a downer when you see it

Posted: March 19, 2009

A couple of months ago, I offered Hollywood some free advice about how to make money this year.

It boiled down to two things.

1. Folks will line up around the block for comedies (lameness is no object).

2. Enough, already, with the freaking apocalypse.

It's customary at this juncture to disclaim that I hate to say I told you so, but I am a movie critic. We live to say we told you so, even when we haven't, although in this case I have.

I direct your attention to . . . 

Exhibit A: "Paul Blart, Mall Cop," six weeks in the top 10 and $140 million. Still going strong.

Exhibit B: "Watchmen," a $150 million downer featuring the destruction of a major U.S. city ("good riddance," says the movie). It opened at $55 million and has seen its audience dwindle to the size of Dr. Manhattan's loincloth. It was crushed last week by "Race to Witch Mountain," in which The Rock takes the radical step of actually saving the world.

OK, then. Here's the extra credit question - whose horse would you rather be riding this weekend, "I Love You, Man" or "Knowing" (and I'll spot "Knowing" the 500 extra theaters)?

Before you answer, a little background on "Knowing." It's the story of a depressed widower/scientist (Nicolas Cage) who finds a string of numbers that appears to identify the dates of once and future disasters.

What's more, the pending disasters appear to have something to do with his family - his son hears spectral whispers, and gets nocturnal visits from guys who look like they got a little too into Billy Idol back in the 1980s.

It's meant to be creepy - something akin to "The Mothman Prophecies" or "Donnie Darko," - but the movie's gloomy atmospherics are consistently undone by Cage's strange, disinterested (and possibly Botoxed) performance.

His lassitude is bizarre, since his life couldn't be more ridiculously eventful - the catastrophes predicted by his string of numbers follow him like an unwelcome puppy of doom. Wherever he goes, planes fall from the sky, subways crash, SUVs flip over.

Like most thrillers these days, "Knowing" is excessively gruesome. Every crash zeroes in on decapitations, or treats us to half a dozen people (stunt men, I hope) running past the camera doused in flames.

Incredibly, the movie presents all this as progress, since it all works to convince Cage's character, an atheist, that there is an order to things, evidence of a higher power, or extraterrestrials, or full employment for Industrial Light and Magic, or something.

There is a chance the movie means this to be uplifting, but you get more love of man in "I Love You, Man" and much less carnage.

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