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Knowing

A not-bad sci-fier that has more on its mind than the run-of-the-mill effects-driven extravaganza.

With:
John Koestler - Nicolas Cage Diana - Rose Byrne Caleb Koestler - Chandler Canterbury Phil Beckman - Ben Mendelsohn Abby/Lucinda - Lara Robinson Grace - Nadia Townsend Miss Taylor (1959) - Danielle Carter Miss Taylor (2009) - Alethea cq McGrath Reverend Koestler - Alan Hopgood The Stranger - D.G. Maloney

Although made mostly of spare parts, “Knowing” is a not-bad supernatural-tinged sci-fier that has more on its mind than the run-of-the-mill effects-driven extravaganza. Absorbing and able to be taken seriously most of the way, Alex Proyas’ generally somber look at a small group of people tipped off about the imminence of doomsday doesn’t smoothly synthesize all its elements, and the effects could have used a budget stimulus. Genre fans always looking for something new and awesome may feel like they’ve seen most of this before, but the conceptual and emotional strength of Summit’s Nicolas Cage starrer largely carries the day, which should spell sturdy B.O. in all markets.

The 1959-set prologue of Ryne Douglas Pearson’s original story gets its hooks in by virtue of that reliable standby, a disturbingly creepy kid. Asked by their elementary school teacher to draw pictures of how they see the future to include in a time capsule, all the pupils in the Boston-area school oblige except for Lucinda (Lara Robinson), a haunted-looking child who instead covers her sheets of paper with thousands of numbers.

Come time to open the capsule 50 years later, Lucinda’s inscrutable jottings land in the hands of Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), a precocious boy depressed over the recent death of his mother. Dad John (Cage), an astrophysics professor at MIT, is in the dumps himself and struggling to forge a stronger bond with his son while living at a run-down old Victorian house out in the woods.

At night, a tired and somewhat drunk John puzzles over Lucinda’s numbers and shortly concludes that many of them, beginning with 9/11/01, refer to calamitous incidents that involved massive loss of life; he soon thereafter learns the remaining numbers provide even more specific information. But three sets of numbers at the end of the long list lie in the future — the very, very near future.

Naturally, John has as much trouble convincing anyone else about his deductions as Costello ever did insisting to Abbott that Dracula and Frankenstein were alive and well. But a plane crash virtually in his backyard confirms the first remaining prediction, and what he at length learns from Diana (Rose Byrne), the troubled daughter of Lucinda — who herself has a daughter (Robinson again) who’s Caleb’s age — deepens and makes even more apparent the ominous nature of the numeric scribblings.

That there is something truly unearthly at play is suggested by Caleb’s occasional sightings of the Stranger (D.G. Maloney), a silent and sinister albino-ish figure, sometimes seen in the company of others, who stalks the boy.

Such events naturally trigger questions of what to make of it all and, ever more urgently, what to do about it. When John figures out the exact time and place of the second forecasted catastrophe, he’s forced to a wrenching decision, but has sufficient knowledge — more than anyone else on Earth, in fact — to know what to do. Unfortunately, the climax consists of a special-effects fireworks display that, because similar images have been conjured before with greater resources, can’t help but look secondhand.

Although he may not fit the received image of an MIT prof, Cage, slimmed down to the edge of gauntness, generally suppresses his more wildly emotive tendencies to deliver an acceptably thoughtful performance. Byrne has the gravity to pull off Diana’s perpetual state of distress without annoyance, and Canterbury and Robinson are rock-solid as the two crucial kids. Rather than just sharing his suspicions with one of his colleagues, a worthwhile additional scene to the script (by Pearson, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White) might have had John calling a meeting with several MIT brainiacs, just to get multiple, and eccentric, reactions to his reading of the numbers.

Lensed almost entirely in Melbourne, Australia, with a bit of second-unit work on the East Coast to rep Boston and New York, the pic was shot by d.p. Simon Duggan with the Red One digital camera system, and has an agreeably soft, desaturated, autumnal look. The old-dark-house central setting and threatening surrounding forest come with certain B-feature connotations that are never entirely shaken, but Marco Beltrami’s vigorous score, buttressed at key moments by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, is strictly A-level.

Popular on Variety

Knowing

Production: A Summit Entertainment release of an Escape Artists production, in association with Mystery Clock Cinema. Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Proyas. Executive producers, Stephen Jones, Topher Dow, Norm Golightly, David Bloomfield. Co-producer, Ryne Douglas Pearson. Co-executive producers, Aaron Kaplan, Sean Perrone. Directed by Alex Proyas. Screenplay, Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White; story, Pearson; adaptation, Proyas.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, DV, widescreen), Simon Duggan; editor, Richard Learoyd; music, Marco Beltrami; production designer, Steven Jones-Evans; supervising art director, Michelle McGahey; art director, Andy Walpole; set designer, Jane Mancini; set decorator, Nicki Gardiner; costume designer, Terry Ryan; sound (Dolby/DTS), Peter Grace; supervising sound editor, Andrew Plain; sound designer, Michael McMenomy; re-recording mixers, Phil Heywood, Robert Sullivan, Pewter Purcell; special effects supervisor, Angelo Sahin; visual effects supervisors, Andrew Jackson, Eric Durst; visual effects, Animal Logic, BUF, Postmodern Sydney, Haiku Post; stunt coordinator, Chris Anderson; assistant director, Steve Andrews; second unit director, Kimble Rendall; second unit camera, Ross Emery; casting, Greg Apps. Reviewed at the Grove, Los Angeles, March 18, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 121 MIN.

With: John Koestler - Nicolas Cage Diana - Rose Byrne Caleb Koestler - Chandler Canterbury Phil Beckman - Ben Mendelsohn Abby/Lucinda - Lara Robinson Grace - Nadia Townsend Miss Taylor (1959) - Danielle Carter Miss Taylor (2009) - Alethea cq McGrath Reverend Koestler - Alan Hopgood The Stranger - D.G. Maloney

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