How do actors become parodies of themselves? Three of the brightest and the best from the 70s crop of method actors, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino have, in the mind of director Frances Ford Coppola, gotten lazy and played it safe. “They all live off the fat of the land,” he said.
Coppola may want to add another name to the list and a family member at that. In Knowing, a new science fiction thriller, the director’s Academy Award winning nephew Nicolas Cage bottoms out, handing in a ridiculous performance that completes (let’s hope!) his trilogy of Razzie Award worthy work. From The Wicker Man to Bangkok Dangerous and now Knowing, it’s as if Cage is engaging in an experiment with extreme b-movie acting. He’s always ridden the line between the sublime (Wild at Heart) and the ridiculous (Face/Off) but even in his most over-the-top glory the risks he takes have been interesting, if not always successful. Who else would eat a live cockroach on screen?
In recent years though, it’s as if he’s all risk and no judgment. How else do you explain the bear suit in Wicker Man or the absurd wig in Bangkok Dangerous? Knowing marks the third time in as many years that Cage has played a parody of the edgy characters that he used to excel at.
He is John Koestler, an astrophysicist and professor at MIT who, since the untimely death of his wife, has given up his faith and adopted the much darker philosophy of randomness. He now believes that there is no rhyme or reason to the world and sometimes bad things just happen. When his son brings home a 50-year-old letter from a time capsule at his school, John’s faith, or lack thereof, is tested as the mysterious letter seems to accurately predict horrible tragedies. If he doesn’t believe, and doesn’t try to figure out the letter’s strange code many people may die.
The basic idea for Knowing is cool. It’s a supernatural thriller with a surprise sci fi development but Cage seems to be acting in a b-movie while everyone else is trying to make an a-picture. He over acts every scene, tries to sell every one of the script’s silly twists and turns and by the time he utters, “How am I supposed to stop the end of the world?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or hang my head in embarrassment at a career gone so awry.
Like Cage’s excessive performance, Knowing is extreme—extremely loud and extremely overwrought. The volume is cranked both literally and emotionally. The blaring soundtrack almost threatens to drown out the angst everyone in this movie seems to suffer from. A wild subway crash and a large scale sequence involving a plane dropping from the sky add some action eye candy but those expensive effects can’t disguise the fact that this is merely a b-movie trifle with a big budget.