National Treasure (2006) & National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Fantasy/Adventure | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some mild violence and language. Other than that, some ridiculous and misleading historical information.

It was late summer, or maybe early fall, when I’d yet to see National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets in theaters. When I told my brother, a fellow cineaste who shares my love of the first installment for its uninhibited over-the-top badness, that I’d yet to see it, he opened his eyes widely and exclaimed, “Why not!” When I asked him what he thought of it, he calmly responded, “Let me put it this way. By the time the movie was over and the credits were rolling, I reached into my wallet, took out what money I had, and left it there. They deserved it.”

National Treasure and its sequel are the most unintentionally funny action movies I’ve seen in years – kind of like Indiana Jones on a coke binge. It has all of the tenants it needs to qualify for a bad action film: over-the-top acting, a ridiculous plot, hilarious one-liners, and unnecessary violence (Evil Dead anyone?). In almost every way, National Treasure could easily be dismissed as an awful film. But it has two things on its side – it’s extremely entertaining and can appeal to any age in the room.

The aspect that gives National Treasure its hilarious edge is its gimmick that our forefathers left clues to gigantic treasures or long-lost secrets. That alone isn’t the humorous part; it’s the clues that lead the treasure hunters on a seemingly endless path in which it’s not out of the ordinary to hear something like, “Oh my God. It’s a piece of string. Do you realize what this means? We have to go to Boston. Now.”

The first film opens with a young boy searching through an attic for a book. Suddenly, his grandfather (Christopher Plummer) stops him and explains a generations-old story passed down by the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The story involves a group called the Free Masons and an enormous treasure.

After the story, we fast-forward a few decades NationTreasure2and see the young boy turns out to be our story’s protagonist Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage). From this moment, in which we see Cage and company excavating for a large ship in the frozen tundra, the film is a non-stop thrill ride in search of the treasure. At the first clue, many team members split off, led by villain Ian Howe (Sean Bean), while Cage is left with snot-nosed tech geek Riley Poole (Justin Bartha). Together, with the help of Washington D.C. bigwig Abigail Chase (Diane Cougar), they must steal the Declaration of Independence (which has a map on the back) before the bad guys do. As we soon learn, Cage is the fourth generation of hunters in his family, all of whom were known for being nutjobs. Jon Voigt plays Cage’s disapproving father Patrick Gates and Harvey Keitel plays the FBI/CIA agent hot on their tail.

Considering the story is asinine in its simplicity, and essentially the same thing over and over, it holds my attention and makes me yearn for more. Which you’d think, knowing Disney, would lead to more sequels. (But, wouldn’t you know it, a series that could only get funnier they decide to abandon.) As I said before, it’s mostly due to the hilarious deductions made from clue to clue – conclusions that no viewer could possibly come to.

“It’s just as I thought. Here, look at this $100 bill through a bottle of Evian. See that? It means we have to wait for the shadow cast by the Liberty Bell at 3 o’clock. What time is it? Darn we have to wait until tomorrow. But wait, daylight savings time wasn’t invented until 1865, so we still have time!”

The second installment adds Ed Harris, Helen Mirren, and dozens more product placements to the mix in a plot that has Gates’ great grandfather attached to the Abraham Lincoln assassination and the only way to clear his name is to find a centuries-old treasure (which could have changed the result of The Civil War) with clues at Paris’s Statue of Liberty, Buckingham Palace, and The Oval Office. And don’t look surprised when Nicolas Cage stares straight at the camera and says, “I’m going to kidnap the president.”

With its constantly moving or cutting camera capturing non-stop action sequences, National Treasure is one of those guilty pleasure movies that everyone hates to love (what do we expect from Jerry Bruckheimer?), but it’s just too damn funny and entertaining not to enjoy.

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