‘Knowing’? You don’t wanna know

Dana Barbuto

Part sci-fi, part drama, part suspense-thriller, part this, part that, it’s all part of the problems for “Knowing,” the latest dud in the fizzling Nicolas Cage canon.

Set in Massachusetts but shot in Australia, the film opens in 1958 at a Lexington elementary school where a pint-sized Nostradamus (Lara Robinson) scribbles sequences of numbers whispered to her by unseen people on a sheet of paper she’s placing in a class time capsule. Cue the creepy music because girl looks positively demonic.

Fast-forward 50 years and the camera turns to a precocious Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), a hard-luck student joining his classmates in extracting the contents of the capsule. While the other students pull out cool pictures drawn by their long-ago counterparts, Caleb is stuck with the mysterious missive.

At first, it seems the latest in a string of curve balls life has thrown his way. His mom died in a hotel fire, he wears a hearing aid, and his dad – the type of guy who drinks red wine while grilling hot dogs – won’t let him attend a sleepover.

Ah, but we know better. And so does Caleb’s father, John, who after staring at the paper over a bottle of whiskey, begins cracking the code. John, of course, is Cage, and what he’s seeing are the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster over the past 50 years. This discovery shakes John’s foundation because he’s a science guy who just gave a lecture earlier in the day on order and randomness. He believes that stuff just happens, there’s no grand meaning or purpose.

Sort of like “Knowing,” a rambling, disjointed bunch of supernatural gibberish weighted down by too many subplots hammering home the same points about the age-old debate of science vs. faith. An argument augmented by John’s pastor father and a host of dark, eerie men lurking in the woods wearing trench coats.

John eventually hooks up with the daughter (Rose Byrne from TV’s “Damages”) and granddaughter (Lara Robinson doing double duty) of the girl who wrote the numbers, and together they fight to stop the remaining predictions from coming true.

It’s the sort of hyperbolic nonsense one would expect from M. Night Shyamalan, not director Alex Proyas (“I, Robot,” “The Crow”), who seems at a loss to make heads or tails of a discombobulated screenplay credited to four writers.

In several ways, “Knowing” is akin to “The Day After Tomorrow,” except the world is ending because of a solar meltdown, not an ice age. There are also two more disasters on the sheet waiting to happen, and, no, one of them isn’t the movie.

Keeping it from becoming one are some dazzling special effects, including a plane crash and a train derailment that comes pretty close to producing a 3-D effect. The film’s other plus is the music, scored magnificently by Marco Beltrami, whose use of Beethoven’s 7th in two dramatic but dialogue-free scenes is ingenious.

Clearly, the goal is to get you to ponder your own existence, but the only thing you’re left wondering is how Cage remained straight-faced delivering lines like these:

“What does it matter, we all die in the end.”

“Why did I get this prediction if there’s nothing I can do about it?

”“How am I supposed to stop the end of the world?!”

It all helps speed the precipitous decline of Cage’s once illustrious career, going from winning an Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas” to losing respect with turkeys like “Next” and “The Wicker Man.”

“Knowing” isn’t quite that awful, but clearly the only reason he’s slumming here is a another piece of paper filled with numbers: his paycheck.

"Knowing" (PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language.) Cast includes Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson. Directed by Alex Proyas.

Reach Dana Barbuto at dbarbuto@ledger.com.