National Treasure (2004)
The premise for National Treasure, the newest Jerry Bruckheimer action film, is something of a mess. According to the film, during the Crusades a magnificent treasure was found. The Knights Templar swore to protect it, and the Masonic order carried the vow through the ages. The founding fathers of the Unites States were among this Masonic order, and they went about hiding the fabulous riches and set up a series of elaborate clues to discover its whereabouts. These clues include symbols on the back of our currency and, get this, a secret invisible message on… the back of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, the Declaration of Independence is a treasure map. The silly premise for National Treasure equates the Declaration of Independence with a Denny’s place mat. Can something this outlandish make for a good movie? Well, it depends on your working definition of “good.”
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is somewhat of a laughing stock amongst his peers. His family name is cursed with the crazy belief in some long lost treasure hidden by the founding fathers. His father (Jon Voight) rues the family name being attached to such foolish theories. Of course such foolish theories in Hollywood are always right, no matter how stupid (did I mention the Declaration of Independence is a treasure map?). Ben and his treasure hunting partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean) find a definitive clue, but then Ian double-crosses on Ben and, gasp, wants the treasure for himself. This turns into a race to see who can steal the Declaration of Independence, though Ben wishes to steal it to protect the document and the treasure. Along the way, Ben teams up with a techno-nerd (Justin Bartha) and a hot government official (Diane Kruger) to crisscross historical monuments and sites to unravel the clues before Ian can.
National Treasure is dumb. Little to absolutely nothing makes sense in this film. This is an obvious, embarrassing attempt to ride the popular coattails of The Da Vinci Code and Americanize the quest. Except that National Treasure really comes across as some half-baked movie version of a kid’s educational game show.
There are so many holes, so where do I begin? First off, why would the founding fathers make it so pointlessly, hopelessly elaborate to find this stockpile of treasure? I’m talking crazy complicated, like having one clue involve finding a ship buried in the Arctic Circle. Yes, the Arctic Circle. Supposedly, the founding fathers decided to hide the treasure because they didn’t want the British to get their grubby, nice-fitting gloves all over it. Something tells me that the founding fathers had more important things going on, like, oh I don’t know, a war! It’s purely absurd to have Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and all the rest more interested in hiding some treasure than breaking from England and building an independent nation based on their ideals.
There are some other head-smackers, like the fact that an assembly of clues has been left entirely undisturbed in 200 plus years, like a single special brick. And, for that matter, how does Cage cut through mortar so easily with just a pocket knife? If there’s a gigantic catacomb under D.C., then what’s holding up the city? How come 200 year old oil still burns as well? Wouldn’t that have dried out by now?
Cage reverts back to his manic show-offy character behavior. In Bruckheimer movies, Cage seems to have theoretic spurts here and there, like he keeps sticking some extremity in an off-screen light socket. He’s generally likeable but his character comes across more like some social studies teacher’s daydream. Bartha and Kruger add less-than-snappy one-liners, but their presence never becomes grating. Bean seems to be playing the stock bad guy role he always is, whether it be GoldenEye, Don’t Say a Word, or Patriot Games.
Sure, even the Indiana Jones films had plot holes (how does closing your eyes guard you from the wrath of God?) but their thrilling adventures overcame any quibbles. National Treasure, on the other hand, is an adventure lacking anything thrilling. This is the first action film to put me to sleep. I can forgive an action/adventure flick being dumb but being boring is a capital offense.
The action sequences in National Treasure are never fully thought out; they usually involve Cage and his cronies outrunning Sean Bean’s group of thugs (repeat). The film’s best moment is the actual theft of the Declaration of Independence. This is the lone sequence in the film that feels like thought was put into drawing out suspense, thinking of natural and interesting complications, and, surprisingly, having the sequence not be overcome by idiocy. After this scene, National Treasure descends into ill-conceived chase scenes strung between crazy elaborate clue hunting. By the time the film reaches its anticlimactic ending, you may have rustled through your change, eyeing the backs of quarters and dimes to ensure there’s no hidden message about a sequel.
National Treasure is a ridiculously stupid, inexcusably boring, ineptly plotted historical adventure for people who get their history solely from movies. Bruckheimer and Cage have an up-and-down partnership, but National Treasure starts with the worst film premise of the year and can?t go much further. Fans of clue-hunting adventure tales may excuse the gaping plot holes, and National Treasure has found a sizeable audience willing to go along for the ride, but the movie doesn’t contain much thrills, entertainment, or anything historically resonant. National Treasure should have stayed buried.
Nate’s Grade: C