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Originally published March 19, 2009 at 4:38 PM | Page modified March 19, 2009 at 4:45 PM

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Movie review

Moody "Knowing" threatens to provoke some snickers

"Knowing" is an overlong, overly solemn apocalyptic thriller about a physics professor (played by Nicolas Cage) who discovers a frightening prophecy.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

"Knowing," with Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn. Directed by Alex Proyas, from a screenplay by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White and Stuart Hazeldine. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language. Several theaters.

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To giggle or not to giggle?

That is the question dominating much of "Knowing," an overlong apocalyptic thriller that's far too solemn for its own good. A little levity, applied at key moments, might have helped it make its points and lend plausibility to its characters.

The script, which tries very hard to take the idea of prophecy seriously, focuses on a physics professor, played by Nicolas Cage, who discovers the prophetic reliability of a note placed inside a time capsule that was buried in the late 1950s.

Filled with numbers that carry meaning only in retrospect, the note seems to have predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as most of the other catastrophes, natural and man-made, of the past half-century. It was the creation of a mysterious child, who later died after producing a daughter (Rose Byrne).

When Cage's widowed professor hooks up with Byrne's character, and introduces his precocious son to her young daughter, the quartet begin to sort out which roles they've been assigned to play in this increasingly tragic scenario.

Naturally, Cage's character has a best friend (Ben Mendelsohn) who declares, "Listen to yourself!" when he's trying to explain his sudden fascination with numbers games. And there's a gang of Aryan stalkers, called "The Whisper People," that follows the professor around, nudging him toward a frightening future.

The talented director, Alex Proyas, who made "Dark City" and "The Crow," creates an ominous mood during the opening reels, and he maintains it even in classroom scenes in which Cage uses his Jimmy Stewart drawl to talk about determinism and randomness.

Jamming the soundtrack with Gustav Holst's "The Planets" and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, Proyas stages several remarkably effective scenes of mayhem, including a massive subway pileup and a spectacular plane crash that may be the scariest thing of its kind ever committed to film.

But for all its attempts to create chemistry between Cage and Byrne, or between their characters and their kids, "Knowing" comes up short. Proyas needs to establish some sense of reality if he's going to carry us through to his looney-tunes ending.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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