A film review by Craig J. Koban
NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF
2007, PG, 130 mins.
2007, PG, 130 mins.
Nicolas Cage / Patrick:
Jon Voight / Riley:
Justin Bartha / Sadusky:
Harvey Keitel / Mitch:
Ed Harris / Abigail: Diane Kruger / Emily:
Helen Mirren / President:
I think that I developed a serious case of whiplash from all of the incredulous head shaking I did while sitting through the implausibly silly NATIONAL TREASURE. Now comes NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS which has re-aggravated my neck so badly that the odds on me willing to sit through another one of these films is slim to none...and "slim" just left the theatre.
This sequel must be the product of a thousand monkeys typing away on a thousand typewriters. It, like its predecessor, is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream movie. Perhaps you remembered with fond disbelief the inanity of the first film where treasure hunter, Benjamin Franklin Gates, was able to uncover a vast and expansive treasure. That "treasure" in question was made up by many civilizations and was actually protected by the Knights of the Templar, which were subsequently protected by the Masons, who were the Founding Fathers. The FF’s got aid from Charles Carroll (the last surviving member of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) to create a ridiculously convolved set of clues in hope that a future generation would - for some reason - follow them all through to astonishing fruition and discover the secrete treasure.
Now, how the Founding Fathers would ever think that a modern man would follow these clues is beyond me, but let’s just say that a person did and that the treasure remained under Wall Street...for hundreds of years...completely untouched and undiscovered. Oh, but wait, Ben Gates had an ace up his sleeve: He got all the clues by stealing the Declaration of Independence and deciphered them by spilling lemon juice all over it. Oh yes...I almost forgot...he then looked at the juice-laced document with 3-D glasses.
If you thought that the Founding Fathers were unparalleled masterminds of inventiveness dreaming up head-scratchingly implausible means of hiding a treasure, then that will not prepare you for the sort reality straining heroics that Ben goes though to discover a new treasure in this second film. I think that the job of a sequel is to take familiar characters and take them in decidedly new directions. NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS certainly has the exact same characters and essentially rehashes the exact same story from the first one and only inserts a new prize that everyone wants. Oh, but it does go even further than the first film by creating an absolutely unattainable level of bending reality.
The epiphanies that the heroes have in this film made my brain hurt. This has to be one of the greatest "But wait, of course!" movies of all time. By that I mean that the characters follow a insane labyrinth of ridiculously complicated clues that no human being would ever contemplate leaving, only to discover one after the other by seemingly saying, "But wait, of course!" Screenwriting rarely gets as contrived and superhumanly convenient as it is in NATIONAL TREASURE 2.
I mean, just consider the secret treasure that Ben (Nicolas Cage), his father Patrick Henry Gates (Jon Voight), and his two partners Abigail (Diane Kruger) and Riley (Justin Bartha) search tirelessly for this time around. They are looking for the fabled "City of Gold" and it managed to be kept buried inside Mount Rushmore for a long, long time. Actually, it turns out that the famous National landmark was purposely built around the "City of Gold" and that a few of the people that knew of the city’s whereabouts were the original conspirators in killing Abraham Lincoln.
Ummm....okay. If that were hard enough to take, then consider how much further this plot dives into lunacy. It seems that John Wilkes Booth (that same man that shot and killed Lincoln) was a member of a secret society named the "Knights of the Golden Circle," which may or may not have been a spin off of the Knights of the Templar from the first movie. Well, it seems that Gates' great-grandfather was a member of the this secret society that hide the "City of Gold" and killed Lincoln.
With me so far?
At least, that is what the mysterious Mitch (Ed Harris) tells Ben and his dad. You see, Mitch has in his possession some of the lost pages from Booth’s diary, which contains some legitimate proof that great granddad Gates was a part of the conspiracy. Well, Ben will have nothing of it and he sets his sights on clearing his family legacy. Let’s just say that this involves taking the page and finding a secret encoded language on it and by using that clue Ben and company go on a quest that takes them - I fool you not - to not only a desk at Buckingham Palace, but a similar one at the White House's Oval Office. The two desks actually work like a safe and if Ben gets a key code in properly they spit out another clue to the City of Gold’s whereabouts. Thankfully, a hundred years of presidents and monarchs did not accidentally find the clues inside their own desks. Good thing too that nosey butlers and maids over a century have not come across it as well.
From there Ben discovers that all of the other secrets that he will need to uncover are all housed in a super secret book that only the Presidents have in their possession. This "book" has been passed on from President to President since Washington and only they have read it. Apparently it contains evidence of many things, like who killed JFK, the truth about Area 51, whether the moon landings were faked, and...oh yeah...that City of Gold thingy. Of course, Ben gets this information from FBI agent Saduski (Harvey Keitel), off the record, of course. Seeing as the only way he will get to see the book is to become President (granted, in this film world, anything is possible) Ben decides to meet up with the Commander in Chief (Bruce Greenwood) and kidnap him in an effort to convince him to tell him of the location of this secret book so he can finally find the City of Gold and clear his family’s name.
I am now officially crossed eyed.
I will not say too much more about this headache inducing plot, only to say that NATIONAL TREASURE 2 tops its prequel for groan inducing moments of discovery. In the first film the heroes poured juice over the Declaration of Independence to get a secret code out of it and here (hee-hee) the heroes gather at a rock formation at Mount Rushmore and take their bottled water and pour it over the rocks. This, in turn, reveals a centuries-old doorway of sorts to a secret cavernous chamber that will lead to the "City of Gold". It sure as hell is a good thing that a rain storm has never passed through the formation and revealed the doorway to tourists, nor did any natural erosion processes destroy any evidence or possibility of locating this secret door in the future.
If these type of plot developments make you agitated, then consider the level of national security in this film, which is about as realistic as an 80 dollar bill. It’s shocking how Gates - even after easily kidnapping the President - is able to elude capture from all authorities. Not only that, be he also manages to gain access - with astounding efficiency - to Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office. His ability to kidnap the President is one of the film’s biggest knee slappers, but the film’s unintentionally hilarious coup de grace is the secret Presidential book itself, which is supposed to house a century of Intel. It should be as thick as a couple of phone books, but looks about as thin as a Victoria Secret catalogue. And not to give anything away, but the location of the book bends logic in irreparable shapes. You would think that a book that contains information of some of the biggest cover-ups of all-time would not be readily accessible to someone that is adventurous in a library.
If the film’s wickedly implausible story is not straining enough, then there is the film’s complete misappropriation of Oscar winning and nominated talent. This film has the likes of Cage, Voight, Keitel, Harris, and even goes as far as to add Helen Mirren to the mix. All of the parts are played almost as if money were held dangling in front of their faces the whole time. Then again, maybe it sure is hard to be taken seriously when you have to utter such painful lines like, "Do you realize what could have happened if the Confederate States of America got their hands on the secret ‘City of Gold’?" Ouch.
A friend of mine - as we left the theatre and after I told him what I thought of NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS - asked me what I was expecting from this film. Perhaps not to have my intelligence insulted. Now, I am all for escapism and suspension of disbelief. Really. Yet, you could have framed the story of this film in the realm of science fiction or fantasy and it still would have not come across as credible. The film has a level of sheer disbelief that weighs as much as a freight train and is held up by suspension wire as thin a human hair. It willfully and methodically jumps off a cliff of silliness and into a deep bottomless pit of unbridled ludicrousness through its running time. As a result, NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS is an masterful and staggering achievement in stretching credibility, so much so that you will leave the theatre laughing at the film, which I doubt was its intended effect.
And...yes...your neck will ache for a week from all of the endless head shaking. Trust me.