Movie News & Reviews

Something gets lost in "National Treasure"

When I bought my ticket for "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," Iwas a little surprised to see it said "NTL TRSR 2" on it.

Because I sure as hell never saw "National Treasure 1." I didn't knowit existed. Granted, to keep my reaction fresh, these days I try togo into movies knowing as little as possible about them. When I'mreally on fire, I don't even remember my own name. I just come to ina seat and 'Hey, some previews are playing.' Sometimes I'm naked.Other times, I go out to my car afterward and find I'm in Canada.Sure, it's grueling, frequently humiliating, but that's how serious Itake this.

Even so, I usually know enough about them to know when I'm seeing asequel. The Internet says the original came out in 2004, though,which is a bit of a stretch between releases, and lets me off the hookcompletely, as I wasn't cloned until early 2005.

"Book of Secrets" opens with a lecture delivered by treasure-hunterNicolas Cage about how, just as the Civil War was winding down,Confederate agents brought his ancestor a coded diary pointing the wayto vast riches -- maybe enough to turn the tide of the war. Recognizingthe danger, he burnt the diary before it could be used, and when theConfederates shot him, he died a hero.

Not so fast, says audience member Ed Harris, and whips out a survivingpage of the diary with evidence that Cage's relative was a conspiratorin the assassination of Abe Lincoln. Cage and Jon Voight, Cage's dad,are mortified: rather than being descendants of a national hero,they're apparently the poisoned offspring of history's greatestvillain.

The only way to clear his great-grandfather's name, then, is to findthat lost treasure, which is pretty awesome for Cage, since that'swhat he does for a living. Rounding up his buddy Justin Bartha, Cagetrots around the world running down clues, dogged along the way byHarris and his gang of thugs, who want that gold for themselves.

"Book of Secrets" is meant to be a crowd-pleaser, which is somethingof a double-edged sword. The good edge: there's lots of jettingaround and sneaking into places that aren't supposed to be snuck into.Something exciting is going on at pretty much every moment, and thoughmost of the obstacles in Cage's way are arbitrary plot devices looselytied to pieces of historical minutiae, it makes for lots of action.

The not-so-good edge: the characters are either blandly effective(Cage) or annoying pop culture knockoffs (Bartha). You know what wedon't need more of? People saying "Awkwaaard!" in a singsongy voice.That doesn't make people laugh, it makes them do horrifieddouble-takes.

So director Jon Turteltaub is good with the action, even when it's ofthe time-tested temple traps variety, but not so good with gettingcool performances out of his actors. Especially frowny-face-inducingis his delusion that having as many people yelling excitedly at eachother as possible is the Holy Grail of hilarity. Not true. Theopposite is actually more true than that. It's a lot like "IndianaJones," then, only with the repeated urge to sock everybody in theface. It's a constant battle between being entertained and beingannoyed.

The ending's no less problematic. At what age are kids too old forfairy-tale perfect endings? I honestly have no idea -- six? Ten? It'smeant to be fun and winning, and it is, a little, but it's alsopredictable and such a tidy package you can't help feeling a littlecheated, too.

It's a tiring experience to be put off by a movie's characters, thenget sucked into it by some inventive, tense action, then just whenyou're starting to think it's pretty good after all, someone goes andopens their clever-clever mouth and yanks you right back out of it."Book of Secrets" would be a lot better if it tried less hard to makeeveryone in it so lovable.

Grade: C