“G.I. Joe Once Said That Knowing Is Half The Battle, Which Is Fitting Here Because The Battle Is Only Half-fought In This Film That Starts Out Wonderfully And Ends – Just Like One Of Those Cryptic Numbers – Tragically Bad. ”
March 20th, 2009
OK, I’ll admit it. I was looking forward to this flick. Yes, I was fully aware that Nicolas Cage was starring in this movie, but I was looking forward to it anyway because the trailer was pretty slick, the premise was tight and they had the wonderful Alex Proyas at the helm. Also on the flick’s side was my Nic Cage Hair Theory, which is that if his hair looks absolutely hideous, the film will be equally hideous (See: Bangkok Dangerous, Next). Cage’s hair looks fine here, but sadly this film still does not measure up, even though it had a ton of potential.
One of the things I overlooked on this flick were the writers, Juliet Snowden and Styles White (based off a script by Ryne Douglas Pearson), whose only other feature writing gig was the dreadful 2005 flick Boogeyman, which has the unique distinction of having the direct-to-DVD sequel be vastly superior to the original theatrical flick. If I would’ve known that they were the ones who wrote it (for some reason I just didn’t check, like I normally do), I might not have been as excited for this. But seriously, I was hoping this would be pretty sweet. The premise of a time capsule being unearthed and the discovery of a cryptic set of numbers that turns out to be a code for the date, coordinates and death toll for every major disaster over the last 50 years… I think is pretty damn cool. See, back in 1959, a brand new elementary school was opened and, to commemorate the event, they asked the students how they would like to celebrate and the faculty chose the idea from the creepy little Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), who suggests the idea of a time capsule. Every student was to make a drawing for what the future will be like in 50 years, so the students of the future can see what they drew. But Lucinda, instead of a drawing, starts frantically writing down numbers on her paper. 50 years later, young Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury) gets the eerie document at the anniversary ceremony and his father, astrophysics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) – whose been struggling with his son (and the booze sometimes) since the death of his wife and Caleb’s mother – discovers that these numbers are a coded warning, predicting every major global catastrophe with pinpoint accuracy for the past 50 years… and there are still three more dates left on the list yet to happen. So, Koestler, being the brave astrophysicist that he is, embarks on a journey to figure out what will happen, seeking out the daughter (Rose Byrne) and granddaughter (Lara Robinson; not a typo, she plays two roles) of Lucinda to seek the truth and prevent apocalypse and such.
For most of the movie, I was sitting there, thinking my Nic Cage Hair Theory would have another notch towards being proven right, because it was actually quite engrossing. OK, it wasn’t Cage’s best work, but it was leaps and bounds better than the drivel he spun in Bangkok Dangerous, even though he would tend to accentuate climactic moments way too much. Rose Byrne didn’t look too shabby either, even though she would follow suit with Cage in those sorts of moments. Still, Chandler Canterbury was pretty good throughout and Lara Robinson did a fine job in BOTH roles, something I didn’t even realize until after the film, which impressed me even more. But yes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was going along pretty good en route to an above-average flick. The pacing was pretty slick, a lot of nice tension, stakes being raised, etc. etc. and we were treated to some absolutely astonishing visuals from the visionary Alex Proyas, who is visually at the top of his game in this film with some simply breathtaking visual moments that don’t feel gimmicky or overtly CGI’d. Then the ending had to come along and ruin almost everything.
When we get to the big finale, I was flabberf*&%ingasted that they chose such an incredibly cheap, unoriginal, quick-fix ending. I could tell you what it was a knock-off of, but, as cynical as I may be, I almost want you to see the film, KNOWING (like that?) the ending will be bad, just to hear what your reaction was, because I was just floored at how inept this ending was. You know when you see some effects that are really bad in a movie, and you think that maybe they just ran out of money and had to do something with it? Well that’s how this felt like, except it’s writing, and there’s no possible excuse – save studio interference? – that could warrant such a travesty of an ending, except just terrible writing. It’s quite amazing too, since I was so entertained through almost the entire movie, that they could drop the ball so fast and so hard, almost like they were throwing it on the ground, with the ending. There is such a pointlessness to the film after this ending is revealed, in that the events that take place, once you know how it ends, really had no reason to occur whatsoever. God dammit. Well, that’s what I get for putting some faith into the people who wrote Boogeyman… but it least they seem to be getting much much better… except for those tricky ending things… At this point, I’m really curious to try and find the original script, written by Ryne Douglas Pearson (who coincidentally was a novelist who wrote the novel Mercury Rising that the film was based on, and this is his first screenplay to date), because I’m just curious at who was really responsible for this ending, or if, possibly Pearson had a better ending that was scrapped. The investigation will ensue at a later date, trust me…
What saves the movie from being a total nightmare is the ingenious work of Alex Proyas at the helm. While he has always been known as a visual and stylistic director, there are some of Proyas’ most mind-blowing moments to date. To be honest, the film is actually worth the price of admission for two of the disaster scenes: the plane crash scene, which has been discussed all over the internet lately (a shot that was done all in one sweeping, glorious take) and a bone-rattling subway train wreck that makes the subway wreck in Die Hard With a Vengeance look like a model train set crash. These scenes truly deserve to be seen on the big screen, in all their splendor… but, if you’re smart, you’d leave right after because it would be more satisfying than KNOWING (that’s twice) this dreadful ending. Probably the only thing I didn’t like about Proyas’ work here was that he signed off on this absolutely terrible score from the usually-great Marco Beltrami. I haven’t heard a score so overzealously heavy-handed and distracting in quite some time and there were moments when I was just wincing purely because the score was just so over the top.
Overall, Knowing just goes to show you how important an ending is, no matter how good it is before that ending. G.I. Joe once said that Knowing is half the battle, which is fitting here because the battle is only half-fought in this film that starts out wonderfully and ends – just like one of those cryptic numbers – tragically bad.