National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The Wibberleys (Cormac & Marianne), Gregory Poirier, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Greenwood, Ty Burrell, Michael Maize, Timothy V. Murphy
PG (for some violence and action)
Proving sequels are seldom better than the original, National Treasure: Book of Secrets re-unites actors, screenwriters and director.
Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) uncovered a vast underground repository of fine art and gold in his first outing of National Treasure, this time, he’s accomplishing the same goal, but for entirely different reasons. His civil war ancestor’s name is being dragged through the dirt by an overzealous opponent, accusing him as being one of a handful of conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The opening scene, detailing how Gates interacted with Lincoln’s assassins and how they initial propositioned him to try and decode a treasure map they had, is the film’s best moments. A film set during that period featuring Gates on a treasure hunt of his own might have been more captivating than a retread of a film that I enjoyed when it first came out.
Also back are Justin Bartha as Riley Poole, Ben’s wise cracking computer genius; Diane Kruger as Abigail Chase, Ben’s curator ex-wife; Jon Voight as Ben’s father Patrick Gates; and Harvey Keitel as secret Free Mason member and CIA operative Sadusky. As all sequels do, they introduce a couple of new characters to make the series seem fresh. Helen Mirren, hot off her Oscar win as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, plays Ben’s estranged mother; and Ed Harris plays the villain yet again as Mitch Wilkinson whose own relatives require defending.
Whereas the original National Treasure made terrific, challenging puzzles that kept the audience guessing, most of the new creations are either direct corollaries or The Da Vinci Code rip-offs. Almost all of the fun of the first film is missing from the sequel, including the witty barbs Bartha would toss out randomly. Here, they just seem like more of the same.
Cage, Bartha, Kruger and Voight, having been down this road before, add absolutely nothing interesting to their characters. Riley’s self-perpetuated poverty is an interesting gimmick, but hardly one that makes sense. Keitel and Harris sleepwalk through their scenes putting their trademark vocal patterns and acting styles on autopilot. Even poor Helen Mirren can’t escape unscathed, as the fierce will she puts into the character is no match for the clunky dialogue she’s forced to verbalize.
Most directors that have grown enamored with their own work succumb to the narcissistic belief that if they succeeded once they can succeed again. Director Jon Turtletaub certainly falls into that category for he fails to deliver anything new or vital to the formula, creating a framework of lame one-liners peppering an extremely loose plot line filled with performers who should know better, but apparently needed to pay the bills.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets is everything film franchises should fear. It’s a joyless production that takes its audience for granted in order to make a quick buck. Sam Raimi knew how to keep his series refreshing when he helmed the seldom-disappointing sequel Spider-Man 2, but even he couldn’t avoid failing with his third outing. Too much of a good thing is mentally draining and may result in diminished returns. Unfortunately, the film will be a big enough success based on the reception of the first film that a third film will be inevitable, but it will likely be even less rewarding.
January 30, 2008