Fourth Cage/Bruckheimer collaboration bores
Friday, November 19, 2004
by Alex Stroup, editor
National Treasure is the fourth time Nicolas Cage and Jerry Bruckheimer have come together to add action and adventure to our otherwise dry, weary lives. Needless to say, there won't be any exegesis on the tautology of film as an extension of man's supraluminary exoconscious, or piffle like that.
After all, it is just an adventure movie. Nicolas Cage is Ben Gates, the keeper of a family secret that goes all the way back to the Andrew Jackson administration, a secret regarding treasure that apparently goes all the way back to the Tutankhamen administration. The treasure isn't really described, but the key thing to know is that it is treasure so grand and so important that the only hope for protecting it is to hide it behind of veil of silly conspiracy and stupid clues that any serious searcher will laugh himself to distraction.
The history is this. Back in the earliest days of civilization some great treasure was collected, and over time and wars it changed hands many times, growing with each transfer. Eventually it came into the guardianship of the Masons and ultimately the Freemasons in America. It was decided that the treasure was to important to be owned by one person, so these Freemasons (including most of the political luminaries of the Revolutionary War) decided to hide it away and leave themselves a bunch of clues. By the time Andrew Jackson was president, only one person remembered any of the clues, but he died before he could pass this information to the president. In his dying moments, he instead passed it to his chauffeur.
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
And that chauffeur was Ben Gates's great-great-grandfather (probably should be more greats). The search has consumed the family since then; the rest of the world thinks them crackpots.
So, you can see that the whole story lies on very solid ground. If you can accept that at time when our Founding Fathers most needed money (to finance the Revolutionary War), they instead buried the world's most valuable treasure. If you can buy that, then you'll be fine throughout the movie.
Of course, Ben Gates is the first one to finally figure out the first clue (yes, seven generations spent 180 years trying to figure out the first clue - they're persistent). In the process of discovering the next clue, Gates falls out of favor with his rich benefactor (Sean Bean, playing another generic villain) who in turn spends the rest of the movie trying to capture or kill Gates.
From here, they'll steal the Declaration of Independence, vandalize Liberty Hall, and desecrate a couple of graves. There'll be one big explosion, some shooting, a rooftop foot chase, and a 100-foot high dive. I must apologize, though, if any of that sounds exciting. Despite being a Bruckheimer movie, it is surprisingly dull, with absolutely no suspense.
Perhaps it should be applauded that the story spends an unusual amount of time laying out the twists and turns underlying the quest they're on, and if you pay attention, you'll actually learn a little bit about the lives of some important people. You won't care, but you'll learn. It does all make for a conspiracy theory that hangs together well, if you buy into the need for a conspiracy in the first place.
There just isn't any reason to care, though. Part of the success in casting Nicolas Cage in The Rock (1996) and Con-Air (1997) was the difficulty of imagining Cage as an action star. It's not so hard anymore, and just isn't convincing when he tries to play it that way.
If your interest isn't killed by watching him solve a riddle while looking too constipated to show intensity of thought, then it should be completely lost when it turns out that the keeper of the Declaration of Independence just happens to be an extremely attractive woman, apparently fresh out of college, who is just looking for some adventure to fall for a guy. Can't we just call a moratorium on movies where people fall in love over the course of hours, unless it is based on Shakespeare?
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Diane Kruger is fine as the passionate protector of vellum, but you know the filmmakers were going for looks over skills when they have to take a moment to explain away the German accent. Harvey Keitel is a bit of a surprise when you first see him, but isn't about to extend himself for such a movie. About the only character highlight is the other action movie cliché of the hesitant, but funny, sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha).
I never thought I would say this, but this Bruckheimer movie could really have done with a few explosions. It isn't intense enough to be a thriller, confusing enough to be a mystery, and too calm to be an action movie. In fact, it is so calm that when the movie unexpectedly received a PG rating, it was moved to Walt Disney Pictures from Disney's more adult-oriented Touchstone label. Of course, the last action-oriented movie from director Jon Turtletaub was 3 Ninjas in 1992 so there isn't exactly a history of ratcheting up the excitement.
In the end, though, any investment you've made in the characters and quest is wasted by the final payoff, which is so pedestrian as to defy explanation. So, I can only recommend that you wait for the DVD, and when you get to the last five minutes of National Treasure, turn it off, put in your Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD and watch the last five minutes of that so that you can pretend it was all for an interesting cause.
Send Alex your thoughts, questions, or comments here.
National Treasure is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
Wide theatrical release:Friday, November 19, 2004.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub.
Written by Jim Kouf, Marianne Wibberley, and Cormac Wibberley.
Starring Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, and Harvey Keitel.
Rated PG for action violence and some scary images.
Running time: 100 minutes
Alex's Rating: 4 out of 10
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
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