© 2007 Ray Wong
If I could have only a one-line review, it would be this: National Treasure equals guilty pleasure.
The story begins as Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and his father Patrick (Jon Voight) tells a packed audience about the assassination of Lincoln and how their ancestor, Thomas Gates, stopped John Wilkes Booth and the Confederates from finding the clues to a great treasure (and possibly helped preventing them from winning the Civil War). However, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) shows up and presents the missing page 18 from Booth's diary that allegedly lists the names of his conspirators, and Thomas Gates' name is on it.
Determined to clear his great-grandfather's name and prove that his version of the story is true, Ben sets out to find the treasure. The missing page, as it turns out, contains a cipher written in faded ink. The code leads to a series of clues that send Gates, his assistant Riley (Justin Bartha), ex-girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) and father on a chase. However, Mitch and his minions are after them -- it appears that Mitch's real purpose is to find the treasure before Gates does. Their adventures take them to Paris, the Buckingham Palace, the White House, and ultimately to the "President's Book" that may reveal the location of one of the biggest treasures in the world.
Reprising his role as Ben Gates, Nicolas Cage (Next) is in fine action hero form here. He's like a lightweight cross between Indiana Jones and Robert Langdon (try not to imagine the conception, however). Cage's strength is in his self-deprecating humor and vulnerability. He doesn't take himself too seriously (nor does the film). As his sidekick, Justin Bartha (Failure to Launch) is in full clown mode and delivers some of the best one-liners in the film. Diane Kruger (The Hunting Party) is also back as Ben's love interest. It's really rather a standard operation for all three leads. No one is going to get an Oscar for their performances here.
The veterans seem to have just as much fun stepping out of their heavy drama roles. Jon Voight (Transformers) is affecting as Ben's curmudgeon ex-treasure hunter father. Helen Mirren (The Queen) seems to have a ball after her Oscar triumph. Even Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone) drops his seriousness for once to play a baddie. Harvey Keitel (The Shadow Dancer) appears briefly as FBI agent Sadusky, and Bruce Greenwood (Firehouse Dog), as the President, is more charismatic than the crop of 2008 presidential candidates.
The script by the Wibberleys (National Treasure) won't win any major awards either, but it's fast-paced, well choreographed, and interesting. Littered with quasi-historical facts and speculations, the story has all the intrigues of the Da Vinci Code without the self-important pretension. This is truly tongue-in-cheek family fun and they know what they are doing: from the cheesy dialogue to the fantastic treasure hunt, the plot is full of energy and forward movements.
And inconsistencies, too. Surely no one is going to believe everything they lay before us: you mean the desks at the Buckingham Palace and White House really hold the clues to the Aztec's lost City of Gold? Do you really want us to believe that Riley can hack into the Buckingham Palace with a makeshift contraption put together from a Blackberry, an iPod, and a Playstation PSP? But that's the point -- it's so preposterous that it forces us to throw our logic away and just sit back and enjoy the ride. And it's quite a ride.
Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) does not disappoint either. And in many ways, this sequel is even better than the original. It has more suspense and the twists are more interesting. The car chases are more spectacular and the locations are more exotic (seriously, Paris and London are more fun that Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.). Turteltaub keeps the pace fast and the one-liners coming. There is hardly any dull moment, thus not a moment to let us stop and think how ridiculous the plot is.
The thing is, no one goes to see a movie like National Treasure for some deep meanings and discovery about life and the human condition. We want action, adventure, goofy characters, jokes, and intrigue. With that in mind, the movie truly delivers. It's one treasure the entire family can enjoy.
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Greenwood, Ty Burrel
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley
Distributor: Walt Disney
MPAA Rating: PG for some violence and action
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7 out of 10