Nicolas Cage is starring in another one-word title movie? Didn't we suffer enough with "Next?"
But Cage's iffy career is in the hands of director Alex Proyas ("Dark City," "I, Robot") with "Knowing," a clear step up from the Oscar winner's recent stumbles.
The sci-fi thriller, opening wide today, hums along on a trippy premise. Cage plays John Koestler, an MIT professor whose child, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), takes part in a unique school event - the unearthing of a time capsule buried 50 years ago.
Each student is given one of the letters dropped into the capsule decades ago. Rather than getting some child's Crayola take on space travel like his fellow students, Caleb receives a sheet of paper with random numbers scrawled over every available inch.
His widower dad, during a semi-drunken state, discovers one of the number sets refers to the 9/11 attacks - the date and how many people died that day - 2,996. And the more John crunches the numbers, the more they align with past catastrophes. But some of the dates listed refer to events yet to occur.
Can John crack the code even though his friends and family think he's simply cracking up since the death of his wife?
"Knowing" asks plenty of the audience, including the ability to swallow whole plot developments which don't stand up to even casual scrutiny. But Cage turns in one of his better performances of late, leveraging his hangdog expressions to bring texture to John's plight.
Proyas is clearly a top-notch director when it comes to establishing mood and menace. The early sequences set in 1959 are darn near brilliant, and he makes some of the more outrageous sequences seem downright plausible thanks to his unimpeachable craft.
The film's disaster sequences will chill you to the quick.
Wish Proyas gave equally distinct treatment to some of the film's flimsier subplots, like the rift between John and his pastor pappy. And then you have the ending, something a few too many critics are eager to spoil. Suffice to say it's big and bold, and your enjoyment of the film hinges heavily on if it hits you in the gut - or causes a nervous fit of giggles when the house lights snap back on.
It's clear some film critics will reject the ending for its content alone, not the execution. You'll see what I mean if you buy a ticket.
Cage remains a cinematic enigma. He won a hard-earned Oscar for "Leaving Las Vegas" then made a bee line to generic action fare. He's back on firmer ground with "Knowing," even if the science fiction story raises far more questions than it answers.