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Friday, July 3, 2009
Caged by Hollywood cliche, Nick's not so wild at heart
By KAORI SHOJI
What happened to Nicholas Cage? It's hard to connect him now with the beautifully boozed-out loser in "Leaving Las Vegas" — for which he bagged an Oscar, and which enshrouded him (for a couple of years at least) with that air of decadence and dandy so hard to find in an American actor. But soon after that he shifted gears and in the last 10 years has refashioned himself into an action hero with a perpetually bad hair day. He's serious and sober and work-addicted — the Hollywood styled man of action who prefers to grunt and shoot, and leave the witticisms to the villains. You'll call him in to save the world (and only if Bruce Willis isn't available), but can't imagine sitting on a couch with him to sip a latte. You can see it in the eyes of his costar femmes — at one point in "Bangkok Dangerous," Charlie Yeung rolls her eyes as if to say: "And WHAT am I supposed to do with you?"
Cage's latest is "Knowing" — an apocalyptic fable with religious undertones, and he stars as astrophysicist John Koestler. A widowed single dad, John can't go to sleep without swallowing a few, which worries his precocious 10-year-old son Caleb (an outstanding portrayal by the outlandishly named Chandler Canterbury). Cage's performance here has the faint alcohol whiff of "Leaving Las Vegas," but all too soon, he gets down to business. Then we get a nonstop joyride of screams and disaster and Cage running around in code-red panic mode.
One day Caleb comes home from school with a sheet of paper — a remnant from a time capsule made by the students at his school 50 years ago. A girl named Lucinda (Lara Robinson) had written line after line of what appeared to be random numbers but John realizes there's a terrible logic to the seemingly nonsensical sequence: a series of predictions of the world's major catastrophes, told in dates and the number of victims. The Twin Towers attacks are there, along with any number of plane crashes, train derailments, floods and earthquakes. Can John prevent the disasters that are about to happen? Will he get to the bottom of the mystery of the final numerical sequence? Will he meet a cute single-mom babe in the process and at least invite her out to dinner? Sadly, the prognosis at this point isn't too good.
Typical of recent action heroes, John doesn't possess any superpower gifts — he's just a nice guy who wishes peace for the world and happiness for his son. His very ordinariness prevents people from believing him when he waves the sheet of paper and spouts dire prophecies, which is why we have to sit through a long, protracted scene of a plane erupting in flames and the passengers screaming in agony until the entire cabin is incinerated. But then director Alex Proyas (best known for the stunning sci-fi work "I, Robot") had never balked at depicting fear and pain, and taking the audience way out of their comfort zones. As it is, the best thing about "Knowing" is this sense of discomfort, and not knowing whether John and the planet Earth are heading for a feel-good situation any time soon. In the meantime, John forges ahead and battles alone but most of his noble, heroic efforts get zilch results. At one point, he finds himself falling for the lovely Diana (Rose Byrne), daughter of the long ago Lucinda, who seeks him out with questions about her mother. Their relationship never really takes off however — Diana has her own numerical issues to contend with. This was probably for the best; get them on a couch together over lattes and she's likely to roll her eyes.