When MIT astrophysics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage in one-note mournful mode) looks distracted and thoughtful as he invites his class to debate randomness vs. determinism, you don’t have to be much of a determinist to figure out that as inevitably as night follows day, John is about to be hit with some Evidence of a Greater Plan. This isn’t determinism, the idea that events that may seem random are a part of some greater pattern. This is just predictable hogwash, and it gets even hogwashier until it arrives at an ending that manages to be inevitable, uninspired, and preposterous.
John’s son Caleb (a sincere Chandler Canterbury) attends a school that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The ceremony involves opening a time capsule filled with drawings from children on its opening day. But the envelope Caleb is given to open does not have a drawing of spaceships. It has an apparently random string of numbers. John notices that one string is 09/11/2001 and the number killed that day. A night-long Google search later, he has assigned many of the numbers to known disasters — and figured out that the final three dates are still in the future.
And then this becomes just another big, dumb, loud, effects-driven movie. Forget determinism; if one character behaved in a rational manner, the movie would be 20 minutes long. Three dates in the future? That of course means that the first one is there to prove the theory. Next, John figures out that the next one will happen in NY. Instead of staying in Cambridge, he heads for the location so that he — and the audience — can be in the middle of a technically impressive but narratively brutal catastrophe. And then we are all headed for the big finish (and I mean FINISH), but first there is a lot of completely pointless racing around in a fruitless attempt to build some tension.
The movie sinks from dumb to offensive first when it devotes so much loving detail to the graphic, even clinical depiction of pointless calamity and second when it ultimately and cynically appropriates signifiers of religious import in an attempt to justify itself. Professor Koestler, in a world of rational determinism, this movie would never have gotten the green light. Case closed.