Saturday, January 19, 2008


The Plot: Nicolas Cage reprises the role of treasure hunter Ben Gates, this time around in search of a "city of gold". When a man named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) comes forward with a scrap of paper, reputedly from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, and claims that Gates' great grandfather had a hand in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the adventurer sets off on a course to prove these accusations false. In order to do so he must re-team with his father (Jon Voight), his computer hacking friend (Justin Bartha), and his ex (Diane Kruger), as well as his mother (Helen Mirren) to locate and prove the existence of a fortune in gold that is only rumored to exist.

The Review: I remember a time when Nicolas Cage could act with some degree of believability and grace, but those days were long gone even before the first National Treasure was released in 2004. Needless to say, Cage smarms up the screen with his token half-grins, mumbling, monotone line deliveries, and insincere character acting. Joining in alongside his soul-less performance is a cast of one dimensional characters who couldn't have acted out a more absurd and boring series of events if their lives depended on it:

- Justin Bartha once again plays the comic relief/computer hacker whose jokes could have been (and in fact most likely were) written by a four year old child.

- Diane Kruger's role is perhaps the most believable in the sense that she spends part of the movie trying to avoid Cage's character, but eventually slips into a predictable character arc as the girl who will fall back in love with the lead by the time all of the action is over.

- Ed Harris is the villain with a heart of gold who eventually sacrifices himself to save the heroes and make the scriptwriting process easier for whoever ends up with the unenviable job of penning the inevitable sequel to this piece of cash-grabbing garbage.

- Jon Voight is the previous generation's version of Nic Cage's character whose sole purpose in the film aside from offering emotional support to the cause seemed to be inducing a few laughs from the less intelligent members of the audience by pretending not to know how to receive pictures on a cell phone due to his age.

- Helen Mirren is a newcomer to this film who was obviously included to provide an easy out for the already established characters when they needed some hieroglyphics translated, and also served to make Jon Voight's character even more stereotypical with a "lost love" arc of his very own.

- Harvey Keitel's immense talent is wasted even more than Voight and Harris' in Book of Secrets as a character who was important in the previous film, but seemed to have absolutely no purpose this time around, begging the question, "What the hell did he even come back to reprise his role for?"

Throughout the course of National Treasure: Book of Secrets the viewer is forced to suspend their disbelief to the extent that even a fan of high-concept science fiction films such as myself was perplexed by how anyone could possibly accept the series of events being presented to them by director Jon Turteltaub, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and company. Every single member of the cast seems to have a background in street racing. The computer whiz character can hack into even the most complex and high-tech government security systems by linking a series of iPods, cell phones, and digital cameras together in a bathroom stall. Every single piece of art, furniture, and architecture ever built seems to have a hidden doorway, a secret compartment, or an ancient inscription written in a long dead language which can be deciphered by showing a cell phone camera photograph of it to a relative of one of the main characters. The contents of the film aside, the way that it mindlessly jumps from scene to scene left me wondering how many hours of footage was left on the cutting room floor which could have served to flesh Book of Secrets out into a film with a normal, believable pace.

I fully understand that the draw behind the National Treasure films for some people is their supposed connections to actual historical events, but when a movie expects me to believe that ancient Olmec tribes built a city made entirely of gold inside the site where Mount Rushmore was eventually erected and nobody but the President of the United States knows about it because of a top secret book that he has hidden in a trap door in the Library of Congress, it loses any connection with reality that it may have once possessed and becomes a colossal farce. National Treasure: Book of Secrets and it's predecessor are nothing more than watered down Indiana Jones films that try to seem cool and topical by tying into the "real" history of our country.

The Verdict: With acting so bad that it makes me want to punch myself in the brain just thinking about it, a story that an elementary school child wouldn't find the slightest bit believable, and thrills so cheap that Jon Turteltaub shouldn't be able to give them away, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is exactly the opposite of anything that I would ever recommend to anyone. For shame Jerry Bruckheimer. For shame.

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