Coming up with an intriguing premise for a science-fiction movie is fairly easy, but developing that intriguing premise into a consistently engaging, internally consistent and ultimately satisfying tale is a bitch and a half, which is why most onscreen sci-fi ranges from pedestrian to dismal. Knowing, a portentous apocalyptic saga directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot; Dark City), squanders its Neat Idea so egregiously that literally everything worthwhile about it, save for a longer look at some expensive effects, has been condensed into its two-minute trailer.
Here’s the nifty part: In 1959, schoolkids in a Boston classroom are asked to draw their visions of the future; their efforts are then sealed into a time capsule to be opened 50 years hence. At that point, the drawings are then distributed to the school’s present-day student body, one of whom, Caleb (Canterbury), receives a piece of paper containing nothing but a long string of apparently random numbers. Fortunately, Caleb’s father, played by Nicolas Cage, happens to be an MIT professor who lectures on theories of randomness, and he quickly realizes that the numbers on this mysterious sheet of paper aren’t random at all. They foretell every major disaster of the last 50 years—and, it would seem, several truly major disasters still to come.
Alas, that’s as much imagination as Knowing’s four credited screenwriters could muster. Apart from our hero’s initial attempts to prove his seemingly crackpot theory, which allow Proyas to stage a couple of impressive if rather ghoulish action set pieces, most of the film’s efforts at building tension and suspense involve spooky-looking men and creepy little girls observing events impassively from a distance, occasionally speaking in unintelligible whispers. This gets old in a hurry, and when the time finally comes for Knowing to pony up an answer about just what’s going on, the upshot is risibly pseudo-inspirational enough to vault Richard Dawkins’ atheist credo The God Delusion back onto the bestseller list. Trust me, just having read the synopsis above tells you everything about this go-nowhere time-waster you ever need to know.