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Cinema Signal: Green-amber: For some audiences but not all.

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. "Knowing"

Synthesizing his recent leanings toward history and the supernatural, Nicolas Cage takes on a doomsday scenario involving code-breaking to save mankind. Nothing less will do. And it starts in 1959 with the benign device of a school's time capsule being embedded in their forecourt for 50 years. But, when the cylinder is retrieved from its resting place, something inside this cylinder is very strange and unexpected.

Jumping back fifty years, when the teacher asks her students to draw their visions of what life on earth will be like in fifty years, little Lucinda (Lara Robinson) is obsessed with filling her paper with numbers. The obsession, however, is not of her own volition. Her utter concentration on the task implies that she's being compelled by an outside force, perhaps a demonic one. When the paper is taken from her before she's finished, in order to be enclosed in the capsule with the drawings of her classmates, she repairs to a little known closet whereupon she continues to write numbers by scratching them on the inside door with her bloodied fingernails.

When the capsule is opened with all due ceremony in 2009, young student Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury) takes possession of Lucinda's page of inscrutable numbers. Why he would do so may have something to do with the fact that his father John (Cage) is an astrophysics prof at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who might be able to puzzle it out. But there could also be a less apparent reason guiding his interest.

The Koestlers live in an old Victorian (what else?) in an isolated woods well out of town (where else?). Both are grieving over the loss of mom, which is strongly affecting their relationship, Caleb accusing dad of not grieving enough. John finds the mysterious page diverting and challenging until he discovers what might be the key. Down at the bottom of the page, embedded within the flow of numbers, he recognizes what could be a date. Not just any date. It's 091101. 9/11.

He backtracks, and this reveals other dates. They are the dates of major catastrophes! In perfect chronological order, this is a virtual record of historical destruction. More disturbing are the dates after 9/11 that lie in the near future. Before he makes sense of the numbers in between the dates, a catastrophic airplane crash occurs on the next predicted day, validating his theory and the spookiness behind the paper's existence.

Meanwhile, Caleb is spotting a weird, bloodlessly grey-looking man who seems to appear and disappear, creeping him out. When the man approaches close enough for Caleb to challenge him, he appears with similar-looking men, promising that he means only to protect the boy.

John, in a state of panic, goes to the school to find out what he can about the writer of the numbers and hooks up with Diana (Rose Byrne), Lucinda's daughter. Diana's daughter Abby immediately bonds with Caleb who is of the same age. Diana, though, wants no part of this unknowable page of code that threatens the life she has anticipated for herself and Abby, and tries to sever any tie to John and his ungodly theory.

But, it's way too late. Abby is visited by the gray men also, and is given a small round rock by one of them, which appears to have no apparent function.

Doping out that the in-between numerals on the page refer to global positioning longitude and latitude, John then goes on a mission to warn the Earth. As he's dealing with a power that knows no containment or limitation, he's finally forced to submit to the supernatural power behind the predictive numbers.

Unfortunately for the movie, this evolves into a sequence that makes the omniscient computer named Hal in "2001" seem like a simplistic boob, with fantasy visuals and final tableau out of a Disneyland dreamscape. The matter of that strange keepsake, the small round rock, is never specifically explained except that the final scene occurs on a field of them.

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The Soundtrack

Frankly, the finale is so excessively depicted that it defuses the tensions and tears the whole code-breaking investigation with its futuristic foretelling apart. Ah, well, it was a nice ride while it remained intact as a mystery.

Cage's biggest task is to keep his tendency to overdo it under control, which he pulls off adequately well here, and one can't help but recall his similarly supernaturally-endowed magician-gambler of "Next" which was the more ultimately satisfying variant of a Sci-fi thriller.

Strictly pro technical elements, like Simon Duggan's camerawork and Marco Beltrami's music enforce the inventiveness of the concept, directed by Alex Proyas, with an elegant vigor. Excessive finale aside, its novel concept makes for a mental and action package worth seeing for its better qualities.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written, Off Base
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 5

This movie was so typically Hollywood does doomsday it bored me incredibly. How about Hollywood does any mystery- was I watching "Nation Treasure 3 or 4?" And lastly what is the appeal of Cage in clunker number 7 or 8 in a row? Where is the great actor who did "Raising Arizona" and "Honeymoon in Vegas." I know it's hard to read scripts, but to just do things like this for the big dough? Now he's doing one where he's a socerer where he wears a Merlin hat in modern New York. Why not just call it "Give Me a Check."

                                                           ~~ The Phantom 

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Nicolas Cage is John Koestler, MIT prof.
Studying the numbers, looking for patterns.

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