National Treasure Movie Review

If there's one thing every good paranoiac knows, it's that the Freemasons founded America. But what nobody seems to know for sure is the reason they went to all that trouble. At last, director Jon Turteltaub brings to the screen a story bold enough to tell the whole story -- or, at least, one version of it.

You see, the Masons weren't always a massive fraternity of elderly men who carried out ancient rituals behind the closed doors of their lodges. Once upon a time, they were knights. The Knights Templar, to be precise. And the Templar discovered the greatest treasure in human history buried deep beneath the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. To keep their treasure safe from the greedy kings of Europe and England, they carried it across the Atlantic to the New World, where they eventually founded a country and built an elaborate system to protect their treasure forever. So begins the story of National Treasure.

Enter Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), great, great, great, great grandson of some carriage boy who happened upon the secret of this treasure by pure happenstance. Sworn by his grandfather to guard the treasure in the spirit of his forbears, Gates is a self-described treasure protector. Oddly, however, he's also a gullible dolt who hires international criminals to help him find the treasure he's duty-bound to preserve in secrecy.

The first 15 minutes in which National Treasure's story begins to unfold comprise a nearly unbearable montage of cheese-ball History Channel-esque footage of knights and revolutionary generals mixed in with random Masonic symbols. Christopher Plummer's gee-whiz grandfatherly voice drones softly on for what seems like an eternity, setting up what may be the hokiest plot ever conceived. By the time the narrative gave way to the film's first action scene, I -- along with the rest of the audience -- had all but written off National Treasure as a national travesty.

Full disclosure: I'm a third-degree Master Mason. My dad's a Mason, and my great granddad was, too. As far as I know, the line of Masons in my family extends back hundreds of years. So I've heard my share of Masonic conspiracy theories and National Treasure's Disney treatment of the subject doesn't stand up to even the dumbest of them. Even so, something about this movie is undeniably fun.

What it is about National Treasure that turns an infantile treasure hunt into a worthwhile cinematic spectacle is difficult to put your finger on. It certainly isn't Nicolas Cage's flat, adolescent performance as the naïve and unconvincingly brilliant Ben Gates. And it's clear that director Jon Turteltaub (responsible for such film failures as Cool Runnings and Instinct) brings only the film's lamest elements to the table. Still, it isn't long before the movie's unexpected charm kicks in and the well paced blend of action and quirky dialogue makes you leave your apprehensions about the undeniably stupid storyline behind. For this, we may have to thank producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Against all odds, this movie carries much of the same whimsical spirit and goofy charisma that made Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl such an entertaining experience.

Don't get me wrong: Raiders of the Lost Ark this ain't. It's isn't really even as strong as Pirates of the Caribbean. But once National Treasure gets going, it's hard not to forget the story's lamer points and get caught up in the action. Diane Kruger is smart and charming as National Archives conservator Abigail Chase. And, though frequently annoying, Justin Bartha serves up enough comic relief as Gates's computer geek sidekick to keep the story from taking itself too seriously. But the biggest surprise delight of the film is Harvey Keitel, who steps in as the FBI agent who tracks the rest of these dorks across the country after they steal the Declaration of Independence, which it turns out is really a map that shows the way to the treasure.

Ultimately, National Treasure is not a great movie. As both a treasure hunting adventure and a conspiracy film, it falls short in many ways, not the least of which is a ridiculously moronic plot that defies reason at every turn. Still, if you can withstand the tedium of its opening montage, you're bound to have a good time. But you'd do well not to think too hard about any of this film's backstory.

The DVD adds a few deleted scenes (including an alternate ending), three featurettes, and the puzzle game you knew this film would have to include on the disc.

Two Masons and a blonde walk into a bar...


Comments

National Treasure Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG, 2004

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