Knowing (2009)

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M.I.T. professor John Koestler links a mysterious list of numbers from a time capsule to past and future disasters and sets out to prevent the ultimate catastrophe. (IMDb)

Cheesy acting and bland dialogue throughout are overcome by a story that-while scattered-is stocked full of so many interesting ideas (on death and the future, with strong religious undertones), genre shifts (from chilling horror-cue silent stalkers, creaky houses, kids who hear voices-to disaster thriller-the set pieces are excellent-to apocalyptic drama-see the drive through New York-to even alien sci-fi), and bold twists (see the third act death and departure) that it refuses to be ignored.

7/10 (Good)

 

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Raising Arizona (1987)

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When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets, their lives become more complicated than they anticipated. (IMDb)
Bursting with a brilliant and bizarre sort of energy right from its fast-forwarded how-we-met-story intro to its surprisingly touching final montage (both which star Cage’s excellent narration), with a wonderfully wacky premise serving as the foundation for some gut-busting slapstick (see the post-diaper heist chase with the dogs; the final baby bonanza) and outrageous secondary characters (see the obnoxious escapees Gale and Evelle; the redneck Glen and Dot and their destructive children).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

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Benjamin Gates must follow a clue left in John Wilkes Booth’s diary to prove his ancestor’s innocence in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (IMDb)

The basis for another exciting clue-following adventure feels forced this time around but the one here is still delightfully rambunctious (helped by another memorable Cage turn: “I’m going to kidnap the president of the United States”). Unfortunately, the repetitive bad guy has even shakier motives, and the sequel-version of sidekick Riley is no longer funny but whiny and annoying. Attempted additions to the first film’s formula (see the marital woes of father and son) are less than engaging.

6.4/10

National Treasure (2004)

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A historian races to find the legendary Templar Treasure before a team of mercenaries. (IMDb)

Far-fetched but fun and fast-paced treasure-hunt fodder led by the charismatic Cage. The long trail of clues-adventure (appreciably self-aware; see Patrick’s skepticism) starts with an exciting heist sequence and is continually heightened by its fugitive framework and the rival chasers (admittedly cliche), while comic-relief Riley tempers Ben’s historical exposition and even cheekily calls out the “got the girl” trope in an epilogue that regrettably compromises its “it doesn’t matter” message.

7.2/10

Face/Off (1997)

To foil an extortion plot, an FBI agent undergoes a face-transplant surgery and assumes the identity of a ruthless terrorist. But the plan backfires when the same criminal impersonates the cop with the same method. (IMDb)

Cage and Travolta are both fantastic in their respective dual roles (each especially as the crazy Castor) in this cop vs. killer flick with a really cool (albeit far-fetched) identity switch twist. The main premise is mined for all its worth in a script loaded with delicious scenes of deception, but the intriguing character drama is tainted by a thin plot and an overload of excessive gun fights and action sequences: The resultant film teeters between unique thriller and typical action movie.

7.1/10

Adaptation. (2002)

A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for the screen. (IMDb)

A film about its own screenwriter (Kaufman, played by Cage) trying to write its own screenplay: It’s head-spinning-ly brilliant and fascinating to watch, and is propelled forward by a wonderful double-turn by Cage (his self-deprecating internal monologues are priceless), along with solid support from Cooper and Streep. The action-packed final few scenes seem a bit out of place in what is mostly a mellow film, but they do offer a fittingly odd climax to the twisted character interplay throughout.

8.2/10