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Cataclysmic events have long been a part of the film industry’s bread and butter. From the near annihilation of earth by aliens (“The War of the Worlds”) to natural disasters such as asteroid showers (“Armageddon”), global warming (“The Day After Tomorrow”) and volcanoes (the cleverly named “Volcano”), not to mention the infinite number of animal attack and biohazard/virus films on the market, audiences have long flocked to theaters to see the human race take a beating.

 “Knowing” is a Nicolas Cage vehicle in which he plays an MIT professor trying to decipher a cryptic note written by a prophetic elementary school girl and placed in a time capsule for 50 years. He hopes, if he can understand the message, he can prevent future catastrophes. It opened number one in the box office in its opening weekend, knocking off the previous champ, “Watchmen,” which features costumed heroes trying to prevent a nuclear war.

A confused storyline and poor genre-bending ultimately doom “Knowing,” but director Alex Proyas (“I, Robot”) creates half of a decent mystery movie (itself ruined by an overly inclusive trailer), hampered by questionable forays into science fiction and gothic horror (the mysterious, black-clothed, spiky-blonde-haired dudes belong in “Twilight,” not here).

The family drama and its struggle for survival are explored here, but the writing is far weaker than, say, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” which dealt with a family coping with an alien invasion. While Mr. Shyamalan had a stellar cast to work with (Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, along with gifted child actors Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin), his characters’ relationships were written strongly enough to set the majority of the film in the family’s farmhouse. Conversely, “Knowing” careens drunkenly from one setting to the next. 

Mr. Cage is better served here as the quiet, grieving father whose overprotection of his young son (Chandler Canterbury) is a frightened reaction to his wife’s tragic death, rather than the hammy, manic, mad professor who runs directly toward impending disasters like the proverbial headless chicken.

The film also wastes the talents of Rose Byrne (“Sunshine,” “28 Weeks Later”), a usually affecting Australian actress whose character is introduced too far into the film and is relegated to running and screaming like a chicken with … you get the idea.

When the topic of religion is inevitably broached, the film thematically begins to resemble the discarded parts of “Pi,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Number 23.”
To his credit, director Proyas creates horrific realism through the use of computer-generated effects. Mass-transit accidents have not looked this authentic since the “Final Destination” series.

The most damning note comes from Marco Beltrami’s ceaseless, incessant, uninspired score. It often seems that a director who uses too much music is overcompensating for a lack in some other area – perhaps writing.

With the state of the world what it is – and our a heightened awareness of bigger and more frequent catastrophes, global terrorism and an increase in the number of religious fundamentalists proclaiming the end of days is near — the inundation of television programming and films focusing on disasters of biblical proportions is not likely to end soon. In fact, the History Channel recently concluded its “Armageddon Week,” featuring potential environmental disasters, ominous predictions by Nostradamus and the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, that some feel might signify the end of the world. Indeed, “2012,” directed by Roland Emmerich, is coming soon to theaters.

Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief
strong language.