Monday, June 2, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

So here’s a Perfectly Acceptable Film that offers exactly what you would expect it to. We have Nicholas Cage running around spouting insane nonsense about our nation’s historical figures, just as he did in the first film, finding maps and codes on every cultural artifact he comes into contact with, just as he did in the first film, and racing to find a lost treasure that is hidden in a place so public that one wonders how nobody has stumbled across it by this point, you know, just as in the first movie.

The plot concerns a surprise revelation that, rather than being one of Lincoln’s strongest supporters, Cage’s ancestor may have actually been involved in the plot to assassinate him. Refusing to believe the evidence, an uncovered page from John Wilkes Booth’s diary that implicates him, he instead decides that it must be an encoded treasure map that eventually leads (as you no doubt have already gathered) to a hidden Indian City of Gold lying within Mt. Rushmore. Of course, Cage has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, so rather than jumping right to the end, he feels the need to first travel to England and France, fight it out with Ed Harris, regain the love of his estranged girlfriend, kidnap the president, get his parents back together, and find a hidden presidential book that contains all of the country’s secrets. You know, when I just list it like that, it almost sounds too easy.

Of course, the movie is pretty fun, and wisely never slows down enough for us to start thinking critically about it until after it’s over. The only problem is in how it is simply so formulaic, so closely tied to the original, that you start to question what the whole point of it is. Most sequels try to differentiate themselves by elevating the stakes somewhat; here, the worst Cage ever risks is a bit of jail time if he fails, and even that is unlikely. There’s still the same faux-intellectual babble about our nation’s history that conspiracy theorists and fans of the Da Vinci Code will love, and there’s the requisite car chase or two and shootout to keep things moving along, but if you’ve already seen the first movie, then there really is no point in seeing this one. This should be a rental only.

Rating: **

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