Though it goes on a little longer than it should and contains one too many action sequences, there's no denying that National Treasure is an exciting, engrossing adventure flick. Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a self-described "treasure protector" whose family has been hunting a war chest hidden by the founding fathers for generations. Gates becomes convinced that a key map is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence, though he's not willing to break any laws to get to it. His evil former partner, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), has no such qualms, and immediately sets out to steal the famed document. This leaves Gates, along with his wacky sidekick (played by Justin Bartha), with no choice but to steal the Declaration before Ian can get to it. National Treasure's been directed by Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker with zero experience in the action genre. Then again, when you've got Jerry Bruckheimer producing, experience and skill are far from necessary. It's that Bruckheimer touch that prevents the movie from becoming more than just a passable time-waster; the film's action sequences feel as though they've been shoehorned in to appease the infamous producer, with no thought as to how they impact on the story's flow. As a result, a predictable pattern quickly emerges - Gates and company track down a clue, Ian and his thugs appear on the scene, and a chase ensues. Gates' efforts to decipher the film's clues are intriguing enough to render such moments superfluous, though they are admittedly well done and surprisingly coherent (this being a Bruckheimer production and all). As far as the acting goes, the various performers are forced to play second-fiddle to the movie's complicated and busy screenplay - something Cage gets around by essentially just playing another variation on his established persona. It's the same sort of performance Cage seems to give in all these Bruckheimer flicks (ie Gone in 60 Seconds and Con Air); Cage is awfully charismatic, however, so it's easy enough to overlook the lack of creativity on his part. Bean suffers the same fate, playing a riff on villainous characters from movies like GoldenEye and Don't Say a Word (the actor does get a great scene in which his character actually mourns the death of a henchman, an inexplicable little moment that's played without a hint of irony). It's highly unlikely that National Treasure holds up to scrutiny in terms of historical accuracy or plausibility, but really, this isn't that kind of movie. As a family-friendly adventure, the film undoubtedly excels - though it's clear the movie could've used a little less adventure and a little more sleuthing.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (June 14/08)
A slight improvement over its agreeable forebearer, National Treasure: Book of Secrets follows Nicolas Cage's Ben Gates as he attempts to clear his family's name after his great-great-grandfather is accused of orchestrating Lincoln's assassination - an endeavor that reteams Gates with sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), love interest Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight). Screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberley have infused National Treasure: Book of Secrets with a larger-than-life sensibility that's reflected in Jon Turteltaub's exceedingly slick directorial choices, as the film is rife with precisely the kind of elements that one has come to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production (ie outlandish action set-pieces, a steady undercurrent of comic relief, etc). As anticipated, there's admittedly a slight degree of repetition to the movie's propulsive storyline - Gates and his cohorts discover a clue, travel to some exotic locale, encounter resistance, and finally uncover another clue - yet, thanks to the preponderance of increasingly over-the-top destinations (ie from the Oval Office to the Library of Congress to Mount Rushmore), this never becomes quite as problematic as one might've feared. Cage's undeniably charismatic work is matched by the surprisingly adept supporting cast (which includes - among others - Harvey Keitel, Ed Harris, and Helen Mirren), and it does seem clear that it's his energetic and downright enthusiastic performance that holds the viewer's interest even through a few less-than-enthralling sequences. And although the film does suffer from a climax that's just a little too similar to that of its predecessor's (ie all the characters converge on a dark, booby-trap laden cavern), National Treasure: Book of Secrets effortlessly establishes (and sustains) the kind of fun and ludicrously broad atmosphere that should've been present with the recent Da Vinci Code adaptation.