Let's assume for the moment that there's such a thing as a hard line between "small, smart movies" and "big, dumb movies." Of course, we all know this isn't true -- just take a look at The Matrix (1999) for one example -- but this distinction will help me explain just how Alex Proyas's new Knowing doesn't work. It will also help simply because I don't want to give away the film's major plot turns and ending. (Although I'm afraid I may not have done such a good job of that; so if you're hoping to avoid spoilers -- even unintentionally implied ones -- please stop reading now.) OK, so let's assume that hardly anyone ever sets out to make a "big, dumb movie," except for maybe Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckhemier. Let's assume that Alex Proyas started out to make a small, smart movie, just like his great Dark City (1998).
Then let's assume that Nicolas Cage came on board, and since he was fresh from big, dumb hits like Ghost Rider and the National Treasure films, the producers begin to tailor it for him. It became bigger, with more plane crashes, car chases and explosions. But rather than becoming a comfortable hybrid between a small, smart movie and a big, dumb movie, Knowing became a horrible mutation, bulging out in all the wrong places, with unsightly scars where the butcher's knife had been. Now the movie's ideas no longer flow from one to the other; sometimes they make huge leaps and other times they just fizzle out. And the movie's big, dumb elements come in all the wrong places; they provide lots of anxiety but little relief.