Nicolas Cage is irate - not because the plane crashed but because he was forced to fly coach.

Nicolas Cage is irate - not because the plane crashed but because he was forced to fly coach.

(Summit) Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alethea McGrath, Danielle Carter, Adrienne Pickering, Alan Hopgood, Ben Mendelsohn, David Lennie. Directed by Alex Proyas

We are all of us curious to one degree or another about the future. It is the infinite unknown, and yet we are all touched by it. After all, we are all meant to live in it, although sooner or later our future comes to a halt, and then we die. While we are curious about our future, we are less curious about the nature of our own demise. After all, who wants to know how and when they are to meet their maker? Would knowing make any difference whatsoever?

It is 1959 and the William Dawes Elementary School has opened its doors for the very first time. Miss Taylor (Carter), a teacher there, is pleased and delighted that one of the students in her class was responsible for the idea that was selected to mark the occasion; a time capsule to which all the students would submit drawings of what they thought the future would look like. The winning student, Lucinda (Robinson), is an odd sort; quiet and distracted, she is tormented by the sound of whispering voices which only she can hear. While her classmates are drawing rocket ships and robot, she is furiously, almost mechanically, writing a sequence of seemingly random numbers. A little unnerved, Miss Taylor puts her sheet of numbers into an envelope, and along with all the other envelopes, into the time capsule where it will remain sealed in the ground.

It is 2009 and young Caleb Koestler (Canterbury), a student at Dawes, is preparing for the anniversary celebration the next day. His father John (Cage), an astrophysics professor at M.I.T., is grieving the loss of Caleb’s mother (Pickering) in a hotel fire the previous year. While he appears to be functioning, he’s numbing himself out with alcohol and musing on whether the universe is orderly, marching along to a plan, or is simply a random sequence of coincidences which ultimately has no meaning.

When the time capsule is unearthed and the contents removed, it is young Caleb who receives the sequence of numbers. He takes it as a possible math puzzle, but when his father sees it, he finds that it is something far more chilling. It is a list of every major disaster in sequential order for the past fifty years. Asian tsunamis, Mexican earthquakes, 9-11, they’re all there with the date of the disaster and the exact death toll. There are, however, three events that haven’t happened yet. The last of them indicates a disaster of global proportions.

Director Proyas has been responsible for some of the most innovative and interesting movies of the past ten years, including The Crow and Dark City. This is one of his more mainstream efforts. The premise is intriguing, to say the least, but the execution is a little bit disappointing. From a technical standpoint, this is a very well-made film. The effects are spectacular bordering on terrifying, but at times they seem to be the reason the film was made to begin with, never a good thing.

The problem here is a script ponderously heavy with coincidence and contrivance. For example, how does John Koestler deduce that the sequence of numbers is all about disasters? Believe me, it’s a pretty impressive string of numbers but to randomly pull a few numbers from the string and determine it refers to 9-11 stretches credibility past the breaking point. Throw in a group of eerie strangers who watch in unnerving silence and you’ve got Armageddon meets Dark City meets Close Encounters. It’s unnecessarily complex, and yet you feel like you’ve seen it all before. By the time you reach the film’s godawful ending, you’re convinced you’ve already seen it before.

I’d pay ten bucks to watch Cage gargle with Listerine, but he doesn’t have much support – okay, make that any. Rose Byrne is hideous as the grown daughter of Lucinda who doesn’t have much to do beyond getting hysterical and acting not so much as a mother fighting for the safety and well-being of her child, but basically like a panicked hysteric. She’s a mom, but without a maternal instinct. Da Queen found her thoroughly unbelievable, but that was more the fault of the script. However, she did chew the scenery ever so thoroughly. 

Much of the movie rests on the shoulders of the child actors playing Caleb, Lucinda and Abby (Lucinda’s granddaughter, played by the same juvenile actress who plays Lucinda), and for the most part the kids are alright, particularly Robinson as the tormented Lucinda. However, the screenwriters turn Caleb into one of those preternaturally mature children who don’t really exist in real life. It’s a Hollywood mistake and it takes you out of the movie early and often.

The movie is not without some merit – Proyas is an outstanding director with a great hand for science fiction. Unfortunately this movie is a bit of a mess, a concept that looked great on paper but became unwieldy in practice. It’s a great looking mess, and Nicolas Cage is in it so it’s at least a palatable mess, but a mess nonetheless.

WHY RENT THIS: The disaster sequences are riveting, and often terrifying. Nicolas Cage is one of those actors whose presence in a movie will motivate me to see the movie regardless of plot or anything else. The whole concept is rather intriguing.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is poorly written in places, relying too much on contrivance and coincidence. Once you get past Cage, the acting becomes a bit rocky. The ending strains credulity and there are too many unnecessary plot threads.

FAMILY VALUES: The disaster sequences may be too intense for those who are sensitive about mayhem. Children are placed in jeopardy, which is offensive to some. Otherwise, this is pretty much fine for all members of the family except for the very young and impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The equation on the blackboards during the classroom sequence are actually clever mathematic predictors of the events that take place at the end of the movie.

NOTABLE DVD  EXTRAS: An interesting feature on the apocalypse, exploring the origins of the concept and scientific thought on how it might actually occur.


TOMORROW: Man on Wire