National Treasure

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 11/19/04 16:21:36

"Dubya’s New Favorite Film?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The first problem National Treasure has is its trailer. Now, I’m perfectly aware that this was created well after the film had been completed, but it’s apparently the first clue anyone had that such a silly production was forthcoming. The mortification of seeing those initial 2 ½ minutes relates to seeing a semi with a blind driver run a red light as a 90-year woman crosses the street. “Please stop,” you cry out but to no avail. Months later, I would see the “PG” rating. Oh, I get it – this is a kids film, its silliness can partially be forgiven. Hmmm, maybe if I regress myself back to those days as a ten-year old who dug crazy adventures, I could really enjoy this. OK, I was wrong, for we’re only 12 minutes in and I’m staring down the face of an intense howler.

When a child is scared nearly to death by the face of Christopher Plummer, it’s hard not to laugh. But it’s only his grandpa and the boy just wants to hear the tale of the great treasure again, the one protected by a secret society of free masons including Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin and all the signers of the Declaration of Independence. “The treasure of the Knights Templar is the treasure of all treasures,” we are told. Just to clarify, it’s a treasure, right?

Turns out, the film makes its first misstep here by jumping ahead to the boy’s life of a treasure-hunting adult. If we followed children along this adventure, a few more of its faults could have been forgiven. But now we’re stuck with Nicolas Cage as (no lie) Benjamin Franklin Gates and his team searching out the latest clue that will lead them to the fortune. It’s upon discovery of the next clue that Cage deciphers a riddle so lengthy that his monologue induces laughter midstream. The next time someone comes to the palpable conclusion by saying “It’s a riddle,” the laughter is irrepressible. No wonder Ian (Sean Bean) and his goons jump at the chance to split from the pack when their fearless leader refuses to go that extra mile and steal the original Declaration. After all, his team all have their areas of expertise and unlimited resources. Like Yahoo!

After everyone in the government including the gorgeous Dr. Chase (Diane Kruger) turns down Gates and trusty sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), he decides to steal the document after all. Now, for those keeping score, this is a flip-flop that for one could have kept the team together if he made up his mind earlier and eventually should have just healed the egos instead of forcing a race through the nation’s capital. Gates has never expressed any interest of donation, and since everyone was originally friends, can’t we just let the healing begin? Not when some group in the film is said to be “popular with Bush pilots.” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, although I thought this was supposed to be a kids flick.

And someone in the screenwriting workshop inserted all kinds of little lessons for the youngsters. Not those pesky life ones that preach against stealing, kidnapping and breaking the law. No, its third grade social studies all over again, putting giant labels on the screen for those who can’t read the letters identifying the important buildings. We get a description of what the Library of Congress is before the plot to steal the Declaration is mapped out in an all-too simple scheme. At times, the movie feels like an extended version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, ironically never around when you need him.

Thus, we’re left with three Oscar nominees, two winners, the retard from Gigli and the broad who launched a thousand ships in Troy following clue after clue after, yes, another clue, being pursued by the FBI and logic bringing up the rear. Honestly, the more complex the clues get and ones miraculously preserved by centuries of progress, the more you begin to believe that the founding fathers really never wanted this treasure found. If the original Ben Franklin wanted 3-D to exist, he wouldn’t have hidden his red-and-blue bifocals from the world. Don’t you see? He was trying to save us from Starchaser: The Legend of Orin!!!

I’m betting that National Treasure had to be one of the scripts Spielberg and Lucas rejected on their long journey to finalizing a fourth Indiana Jones adventure. Very little can save it and Jon Turteltaub’s shoddy handling of the action sequences and its pacing only further bury it. I can’t even keep a movie poster unwrinkled from the time I get it free at the theater to the drive home, yet these geniuses are shooting at, throwing, running and jumping with a 228-year old piece of parchment that we’re constantly reminded is quite fragile. The enthusiasm the material demands to prevent eye-rolling and head-smacking is lost on Cage, whose character never encapsulates the joy of his pursuit, the weariness of a lifetime lost in the hunt or an obsessiveness that would only be plausible in a more adult-oriented adventure, which would again be impossible given the material.

It’s funny how many of us leaving the screening had similar variations on the theory that this could be Dubya’s new favorite movie. I wouldn’t even be surprised if a special screening was held for him since it has to do with Washington history and is right around his intelligence level. It has a hero who does incredibly illegal things because he believes them to be right. He carries the 200-year old foundation of this country over his back with reckless abandon. And for icing, the villain is defeated at a Boston library. When it comes time for Gates to have picked out his brand new house with his spoils, we should be amazed that it’s not white with giant pillars. C’mon, there has to be some shred of reality behind the film.

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