The world as we know it

Rated 3.0

With Knowing, Nicolas Cage ends a rather dreadful movie streak that started with the maudlin World Trade Center in 2006. In the three-year stretch, he headlined six bad movies, and lost a reasonable amount of credibility. Once one of the trade’s best actors, he’s been slowly but surely deteriorating into an alternately droning, then screaming joke, donning one bad hairpiece after another. (For a comprehensive lesson in just how ridiculously bad Cage can be, watch The Wicker Man.)

Writer-director Alex Proyas gets Cage to scale it down and calm the performance a bit, no small feat considering that this movie is about the end of the world. If there were ever a reason for Cage to scream and do his bug-eyed look, it’d be this film. Yet Cage actually does some sublime work as John Koestler, a man who decodes a list of numbers delivered to his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) from a time capsule. The numbers show chronologically the locations, dates and death tolls for major disasters over the past 50 years.

That’s scary enough, but even scarier is the appearance of dates and death tolls that haven’t happened yet. As John drives himself and others crazy trying to prove the authenticity of the list, he comes upon a frightening possibility: The world is going to end, and soon.

There are moments of true suspense and chills in this film. When John is held up in traffic during a rainstorm, he realizes that one of the disasters from the list is supposed to happen in the exact location and time he currently occupies. What happens next I won’t ruin, but I will tell you that it is terrifying, nightmarish stuff featuring awesome special effects and a nice, freaked-out turn by Cage.

Proyas hints at both biblical and extraterrestrial explanations for what’s happening. Strange, white-haired intruders visit Caleb at night and provide him with visions of the future, which include a haunting sequence of the Earth being scorched, panicking animals running around ablaze. These intruders might be angels and they might be aliens, but one thing is for certain: They’ve spent a little too much time studying Billy Idol album covers and Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys. Their fashion sense totally rips those dudes off.

John’s pursuit of the truth of the origins of the spooky number list gets him in touch with Diana (Rose Byrne), the daughter of the girl who scrawled the numbers half a century ago. This is where the story loses some steam but doesn’t necessarily go off the rails. Speaking of going off the rails, another highlight of the film is a violent subway sequence that puts you inside a crashing train. The film manages some decent action scenes, even when the story gets a little convoluted.

In the end, Proyas wants to make some sort of strange statement about the origin of everything, and this doesn’t quite work. What does work is the total annihilation of the planet. Finally, an apocalypse movie that doesn’t puss out! Seriously, most apocalypse movies of late either star Kirk Cameron or wimp out with some hero saving the day in the end. Saving the planet is not among Proyas’ intentions with this film. This mother has a major death toll.

Critics—with the exception of a shocking 4 star rating from Roger Ebert—have been beating the crap out of this one, but I say it’s OK. Hopefully, this will start getting Mr. Cage back on track. Thankfully, he doesn’t have any more Ghost Rider films scheduled, although he is slated to play a wizard in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, based on the infamous flood sequence from Fantasia (sounds weird). Knowing is no classic, but it’s worth watching, and that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that about a Cage headliner in years.