Saturday, March 21, 2009
Knowing When Not to Heed the Warning
Having a series of numbers, scrawled out by a creepy little girl in an elementary school class in Lexington, Massachusetts, for a 1959 time capsule, that successfully predicts the dates, number of deaths, and GPS coordinates of horrible disasters over the past 50 years, is kind of like knowing that any movie with Nicolas Cage and a bad title such as Knowing, Bangkok Dangerous (2008), and Next (2007) is going to be a really bad movie. So when I looked at the offerings for new releases for/at 320094166966270297123, I heard the little voices in my head saying, “Duplicity not Knowing. Duplicity not Knowing.” But I ignored the voices. You see, I’ll choose a disaster movie over a spy movie with Julia Roberts any Friday of the year because even though both genres tend be chock full of clichés, at least with the disaster movie you get the disaster.
So I went to the local multiplex, found the theater more crowded than for any movie I’ve seen this year, heard packs of pre-teens scurrying noisily for seats in the front, felt the teenaged girl behind me ramming my seat with her big foot, saw the old lady ascending the steps laboriously with a small dog on a leash beside her, and I thought, “Oh, shit. I have made a big mistake.”
But I had not. I was surprised. Granted, Cage’s acting ranges from tolerably utilitarian to downright right annoying, as he plays John Koestler, a desperate widower/physicist who decodes the number series and tries to get people to believe what it predicts. Meanwhile, Rose Byrne as Diana, another desperate single parent, is bland and misdirected. Clearly, the film borrows from The Day the Earth Caught Fire, E.T, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Deep Impact, Signs, and National Treasure, incorporating such hackneyed elements as the moody clairvoyant kids, the numbers clues, the mysterious figures lurking in the woods, and the use of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, Second Movement, as dramatic accompaniment – which has been overused but is still very cool. But all this doesn’t matter. Once the film grabs you – and I was grabbed from the beginning when the little Wednesday Addams-eyed girl in the stereotypically goody-goody 1950s classroom starts scrawling numbers like a lunatic obsessed by a higher power while all the other kids are drawing pictures of space ships and robots as their innocuous predictions of the future – it is a genuinely scary and suspenseful film.
Director Alex Proyas (Dark City 1997) delivers a lot that I love in movies. I love disasters – and this film has many – rendered by means of CGI that ranges from the silly (the blazing moose) to the viscerally effective. I love a story about a guy who can predict horrid disasters but nobody believes him. And Proyas does a wonderful job of creating very creepy settings – dark woods, a dilapidated trailer – with the spooky Whisper Men who, of course, can communicate with John and Diana’s kids (Chandler Canterbury and Lara Robinson, who also plays the gloomy numbers girl).
Think too much while you’re watching this film and you might consider it ridiculous. Let yourself go, and it is scary, suspenseful, and visually awesome. Considering that the girl behind me ceased ramming my seat and the dog didn’t bark, I had a wonderful time at the movies, and I learned that sometimes you need to pay no attention to the Nicolas Cage warning.