Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Greenwood

MPAA Rating:  (for some violence and action)

Running Time: 2:04

Release Date: 12/21/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

"This has action and nostalgia, because we've seen it before."

—"Mystery Science Theater 3000"

I'm not suggesting that National Treasure: Book of Secrets belongs in the ranks of "MSTie-fied" features (I'm sure the guys will have some fun with it at RiffTrax when it arrives on DVD), because it is competently made and features a lot of ridiculous historical puzzles (That is sometimes a virtue). Director Jon Turteltaub, screenwriters Cormac and Marianne Wibberley (known here simply as "The Wibberleys" for pretense sake, I suppose), and the lead cast of the original movie are back, and that's usually a sign that it can't be too bad (or that some people were under contract).

They all bring to the table the same things they brought around the first time: The direction is capable, the writing gives us some more farfetched historical conspiracies and treasure hunts to make up the plot, and the actors lend it just enough credibility so it doesn't seem as ludicrous as it sounds. It is, essentially, the same movie as its predecessor, and that's a big part of the problem. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt here, but it's so familiar as to keep us from getting caught up in the scavenger hunt this time around.

Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), whose full name, as you (like me) probably don't remember, is Benjamin Franklin Gates, is with his father Patrick (Jon Voight), whose middle name is Henry, which I only learned because after mentioning his son's full name I was racking my brain about it enough to look it up. They're talking about Ben's great-great-grandfather Thomas, whose middle name, we must assume, is either Jefferson, Edison, Paine, or whatever. He helped to stop the Knights of the Gold City, a renegade Confederate sect that was operating after the Civil War ended, from retrieving a treasure map to a famous golden city, which might have given the defeated Confederates a second chance or something like that.

Wait, though, because Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) has evidence otherwise. He has a missing page of John Wilkes Booth's diary, which lists Thomas Jefferson/Edison/Paine/Whatever Gates as the architect in a list of conspirators who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Hero worthy of infinite praise to villain of utter contempt in 30 seconds—that must be a record. Anyway, Ben is on a mission to prove that his great-great-grandfather didn't kill Lincoln.

How will he do this, you might ask. By trying to recover the other missing pages of Booth's diary that might make other references to Gates? By finding Gates family records that might show otherwise? By looking into these Knights of the Gold City and seeing his great-great-grandfather's name is listed somewhere? No, he's going to find that lost city of gold, which won't prove that his great-great-granddad was innocent but will prove the golden city exists, hence proving his great-great-grandpa innocent. Wait. What? Never mind.

The movie has Gates and his comrades running around different sites of historical significance, uncovering clues that lead to another site of historic interest, finding more clues, backtracking to the previous clues, and pretty much showing once again that our forefathers were really, really bored while defining the track of modern human history. How else can you explain a pair of desks—one in Buckingham Palace, the other in the Oval Office—that have drawers that act as the combination to a hidden alcove which contains a wooden plank inscribed in a Pre-Columbian American language? Or the fact that Mt. Rushmore is actually a cover-up to a huge secret? That only makes sense: If you want to keep people away from something, build an iconic tourist attraction.

It is, as said before, the same movie as the last one, only with a more cosmopolitan feel (They actually travel outside of New England in this one) and less involving action sequences and puzzles. The center of Gates' hunt is the President's fabled Book of Secrets, which tells everything from the missing information on the Watergate tapes to the JFK assassination to Area 51 to the setup for another sequel. To get the book, Gates plans to kidnap the President (Bruce Greenwood), which turns out not to be an actual kidnapping but, hey, we need conflict here.

Joining Gates are his dad, his now ex-girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger), which means we get the whole slow reuniting tension, his sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), who cracks unwise and has the ability to hack into any system on command (London traffic management? Sure.), and his mother Emily (Helen Mirren), which means we get the slow reuniting tension yet again. It's a lot less fun this time around, as the scavenger hunt never feels fluid. There's a generic car chase, a lot of backtracking, and a confused villain in Mitch, whose motivation changes faster than Gates' great-great-grandfather's reputation.

It all leads up to a climactic adventurer sequence in an underground catacomb (like the first one), which is a series of cliffhangers (like the first one) with Jon Voight and Helen Mirren trying not to look too silly while doing the senior citizens' production of Romancing the Stone. National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the natural deterioration of sequels; it's same-old when same-old wasn't that good in the first place.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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