Friday, January 27, 2012

Just KNOWING I'm Gonna Hate TOUCH

Since 24 went off the air I must admit that I've missed my weekly dose of Kiefer Sutherland. Sure, the show got a little long-in-the-tooth as it went on and first-season shockers like "the death of Jack Bauer's wife" were quickly replaced by idiotic shockers like "the rat-faced guy is Jack's evil(er) brother". But for a serial network thriller 24 tended to deliver the goods and had great guest stars like Dennis Haybert, Peter Weller and Swarthy Fred Ward.

So when FOX announced that Sutherland was returning to the airwaves in a drama created by Tim Kring – who gets a pass from me for delivering that first and only good season of HEROES – I was sorta intrigued. But as each relentless network promo pounded away at me during the NFL playoffs, the show looked less and less appealing.

Did I really want to spend an hour each week with sad-sack Kiefer and his mute kid – with Danny Glover in tow – running around solving mysteries that emerged from the kid's spooky 'ciphering? And, was it just me or did this look a lot like a less apocalyptic, small screen version of the Nicolas Cage flick KNOWING? 

I've never seen the Cage flick – directed by Alex Proyas who did the okay adaptation of THE CROW and the absolutely awesome DARK CITY – but I went back and checked out Tom Crites' review from the ER website. Oddly enough, reading the review – reprinted below –  pretty much put me off TOUCH but makes me want to wallow in KNOWING at the next available opportunity. Read on!

Now this is a two-hour shit-stabbing if I ever sat through one: hours of an aging Nicolas Cage running around trying to save the world and managing to look more and more like a balding wrinkled nutsack as he does so. The trailers gave KNOWING a definite apocalyptic flair, and the film does have that in spades; unfortunately there are only three of these scenes in the entire movie. Are they worth it? You be the judge.

Oh yeah, by the way, I'm gonna spoil the shit out of the ending. On purpose. You'll know why. If you'd rather not be cheated, just ignore the film and this review altogether. M'kay?

It begins back in 1959, where a spooky little girl named Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson) has come up with the winning entry for the dedication ceremony of William Dawes Elementary School. It's a time capsule, and the idea is that all of the kids in the class will each draw a picture for the children of the future to share when the capsule is opened years from now. But instead of drawing rocket ships Lucinda covers a sheet of paper, front and back, with a continuous string of apparently random numbers. Maybe it's all of that time she spends staring directly into the sun, but then again it could be that she's being guided by the whispering voices she hears. So intent upon her project is she in fact that her teacher Ms. Taylor actually has to tear the page away from her so that it can be sealed for burial. A little while later Lucinda is found in a closet, scratching numbers into the door with her fingernails...

Flash forward 50 years (Really? Are you sure you don't want to make a mini-series out of this?), and uber-drunk John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is playing single father to bratty, precocious, half-deaf, vegetarian twerp Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). And teaching dispiriting classes on astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When the time capsule is opened to celebrate "50 Years of Education" and the envelopes containing the mid-century students' artwork are passed out to the class of today, Caleb receives Lucinda's envelope and the accompanying character string. And it's at about this same time that whispering strangers start to show up and shadow the boy.

That night, through the brilliance of a drunken accident, John starts dicking around with the number string on Lucinda's legacy. And in no time at all he discovers that many of the figures represent dates and casualty counts related to infamous accidents and disasters: 9/11/01/2996, for a glaring example. Other numbers remain unexplained, but what troubles John the most is that some of the dates haven't yet passed. In fact, one falls on tomorrow's date, with the numbers predicting that 81 people will die.
John stays up all night channel surfing, looking for the news report of the scheduled disaster. With no results. It isn't until he's stuck in traffic, in the rain, on the way to pick up his kid that catastrophe strikes. And when it does it hits right in front of him; just as his GPS clues him in to the fact that the mystery numbers stand for latitude and longitude, a jetliner comes hurtling out of the sky, striking an electrical tower and scraping a wing across the crowded freeway before crashing and burning in a nearby field.

John goes running straight into the flaming debris to help, but he is simply overwhelmed by the sight of so many passengers burning alive. In fact, as he watches one group of survivors fleeing the wreckage of the main cabin, they are suddenly engulfed in an enormous fireball of an explosion. Emergency crews arrive and push John aside, where he can only stand in shock, staring at the flames and burning bodies all around him.

Afterwards John is a little more than a little bit shaken up. Not only because he watched multiple people burn to death, but because he's sure that it was no coincidence that he happened to be right there when the accident took place. He's convinced that the numbers are a warning meant for him - and there are still two disasters yet to take place. (Well, three if you count the widespread release of this film.)

John continues to delve into the origin of the sheet of code, more intent than ever on preventing the upcoming disasters. Although Lucinda Embry died years ago a newspaper obituary provides her married name, and John soon begins to stalk her daughter Diana (Rose Byrne) and Diana's daughter Abby (Lara Robinson). And, in the hope that Diana can shed some additional light on the situation, John takes Caleb along with him to the aquarium for a contrived meeting with Diana and Abby. But upon speaking with him Diana quickly decides that she doesn't want anything to do with some crackpot theorist who reeks of single malt digging into her family history, and the meeting ends abruptly. So, John goes home and gets his gun.

Dumping Caleb at his sister Grace's place, John plots the coordinates of the next anticipated tragedy and heads into Manhattan. Going down into a subway station he chases a suspicious-looking character onto one of the trains, but by the time he realizes that the guy is just a shoplifter the doors have shut and the train starts to move. Just as another train heading toward them at speed is shunted onto the same track due to an electrical malfunction. The oncoming train hits at force, leaping the track and literally tearing through the subway platform, grinding a host of commuters to jelly as it does so. John is unharmed, but just as predicted many others are not.

Now be forewarned; the end of the world may be nigh, but the film is only half over. You're going to have to sit through almost an hour of talky bullshit before Armageddon arrives. So you may want to get up and get a drink now.?Later that evening when John brings Caleb home he finds Diana and Abby camping out on his front porch. When the kids go inside Diana tells him that the last date on the sheet, 10/19/09, is a date her mother often spoke of: it's the day Diana's supposed to die.
John drives them all out to Lucinda's home, left largely untouched since she committed suicide by overdose when Diana was nine. Leaving the sleeping children in the car to be approached by the whispering people, John and Diana enter the house and begin to poke around. In doing so John comes across a bedframe that explains the curious backwards 'E's at the end of the number string: scratched into the underside of the wood are the words "Everyone Else," repeated over and over again. And the date for that final event is tomorrow's.

Summoned by the sound of the car horn the parents rush back outside, where John pulls his handgun and chases the whispering people off into the woods. Cornering one of them John demands to know what they want, whereupon the man turns around and opens his mouth, emitting a burst of light that leaves John stunned and helpless. Once he recovers and takes them all back home, Diana admits that the whispering fellows have been following she and Abby for some time.

In the morning John visits a colleague at the observatory and, based upon something that Abby said before, begins looking at the projected activity of solar super-flares. And it looks like one is scheduled to occur later that day; one that would completely destroy the earth's ozone layer.
Diana tells John about a little-known cave system where they might be safe, and it sounds like a good idea to him. But upon finding Caleb in a trance, desperately scrawling out his own series of numbers, John decides to make a pit stop at Dawes Elementary. Breaking into the building he miraculously manages to find the door that Lucinda was clawing at 50 years ago, and tearing it from its hinges he hauls it back home. As an increasingly frantic Diana protests John begins scraping away a recent layer of paint, explaining that Lucinda must have added another set of coordinates after she was prevented from completing her list. John is now looking for that final portion of the code, but as he works away Diana loads the kids into her car and hits the road. By the time John uncovers the numbers and plugs the coordinates into his cell phone application, he realizes that he's all alone.

On the way to the caves Diana stops at a gas station and catches an emergency broadcast on the mini-mart's television. Warning of the increasing severity of solar activity, the transmission instructs citizens to stock up on supplies and find underground shelter. While she's inside Caleb sneaks out to call Dad, and when Diana finds him she takes the phone and is told by John that the new numbers reflect the location of Lucinda's mobile home; that's where they need to go. Diana is insistent upon the caves, despite John's warning that the radiation will penetrate a mile underground, and as they argue back and forth the whispering people show up and drive away with the children.

Diana steals another car and gives chase, only to be broadsided by a lumber truck when she runs a red light. John shows up at the gas station just as widespread panic is setting in, and getting some information from the attendant he goes after Diana. He finds her in the back of an ambulance at the crash site, given up on as unresponsive by the EMTs.

Somehow following the trail of shiny black pebbles that have been popping up throughout the film, John manages to track the whispering people to an isolated woodland location. He finds them, along with the kids who tell him that everything is all right; it was the whispering people who originally sent the code to Lucinda half a century ago with the goal of saving the children. And now the children must leave the planet with them in order to start over and save the human race. All of this as a gigantic spacecraft appears and drifts down to earth and the whispering people metamorphose into angelic extraterrestrial beings and carry the children away into the heavens, followed by an array of innumerable identical ships.

Of course the adults can't go, so John is left to sizzle on the baking planet. There's the requisite bit of weepy family reunion horseshit before this happens of course, and by now the audience is truly primed for an epic disaster. And, after a lot of fancy CGI work and more scenes of civil unrest, and some unnecessary Christian nonsense about this not really being the end, the end of the world does arrive in the form of a massive firestorm that sweeps the Earth, turning people and buildings into cinders in seconds. There's some additional religious allegory about a new Eden, and thank fuck that's all over.

And are you fucking kidding me? If I would have paid to see this I think I would have shat directly in my seat. For fucksake, that's even worse than the ending in POLTERGEIST II when Grandma's angel comes out to save the family from the H.R. Giger preacherman monster. Lousy alien intervention ending, with the hokey Christian symbolism smeared all over it like shit on a wafer.

Three scenes of awesome and horrible tragedy, loaded with calamitous special effects and literally thousands of deaths, each rather horrible in its own way. But scattered throughout interminable chatty candy-ass nonsense that ends, again (can't make this point enough), with some religious CLOSE ENCOUNTERS / SPHERE Rapture garbage? What the hell kind of Disney-fried chickenshit is that?

Sure, there are some pretty strong "Disaster Sequences (and) Disturbing Images" for a PG-13 flick, but the majority of this falls under the heading of substandard storytelling. (Way to exploit 9/11 though, dicks.) Because what's more horrific than CGI victimization but needless talkiness, made ultimately more needless by the contrived special interest ending.

Plus it's one of those films structured around some fuckin' little brat you'd rather see fed to the rats in New Delhi than watch bouncing around onscreen, so you can expect some big time disappointment here. Like Eddie Furlong in TERMINATOR 2; who the fuck tells the Terminator NOT to kill people?! Shit!

It's been as long since Proyas has made a good movie as it has since Cage has starred in one; let's just say this is no winning combination of THE CROW and WILD AT HEART. And nowhere near as funny as VAMPIRE'S KISS.

Special features include an audio commentary by director Proyas, and "Knowing All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller," which at 12 minutes long was 12 minutes longer than I had to spare. There's also "Visions of the Apocalypse" in which a number of 'experts' give their opinion on apocalyptic thought – skipped that one too.

One point for the disasters. I'd give it another for the end of the world, but that's just too much. – Tom Crites

No comments: