erasing clouds

National Treasure would be buried in summer

review by matthew webber

Ol' Jon Turteltaub did it again.

Turteltaub directed his latest film, National Treasure, straight to number one, a position befitting the auteur behind The Kid, While You Were Sleeping, Cool Runnings, and 3 Ninjas, perhaps the Citizen Kane of triplicate ninja films.

Who, you ask, is Jon Turteltaub? Exactly. I only remember his name because the Movie Announcer Guy inexplicably tacked a "Directed by Jon Turteltaub" tagline at the end of a trailer I've been watching for months, a trailer I at first thought was for a Da Vinci Code adaptation. Hence, Jon Turteltaub is exactly the right kind of hack for this kind of harmless popcorn thriller.

What Turteltaub does so smoothly is inject absolutely none of his personality into a film like National Treasure, so as not to detract from the quirkiness of a Nicolas Cage or the penchant for the blank, blockbuster-ability of a Jerry Bruckheimer. The film looks bland, the jokes fall flat, and the dialogue only works to move the plot from one point to the next. I'm sure a sequel is forthcoming.

But who's complaining? The movie is actually an entertaining, fast-paced, historical heist film that deserved at least one number-one weekend at the box office, if not another one or two. Several weeks might be pushing it a bit, but that's what a summer movie released at the beginning of a winter full of Oscar-baited melodramas and biopics gets.

And that's exactly what National Treasure is, a summer movie, albeit one with a somewhat implausible plotline and a dependable if not bankable lead. The movie seems good when you're watching it, decent when you leave the theater, and better if you're not comparing it to actual summer blockbusters like the Shrek and Spider-Man sequels.

In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage's Benjamin Franklin Gates is the last in a long line of conspiracy nuts whose family history allegedly includes some top-secret secret involving ciphers, Masons, the founding fathers (but aren't they one and the same?), and now a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. A predictable double-cross by a member of his crew sets young Ben Franklin Gates on a quest to steal the Declaration in order to protect it (riiight), woo a character played by the actress who played Helen of Troy (Diane Kruger), and trade zingers with his equally nutty partner in federal crime (newcomer Justin Bartha).

Jon Voight and Harvey Keitel also show up to collect paychecks.

The premise is interesting - if you haven't read the far-better Dan Brown best seller, which, by now, almost everyone has - and if you're not awaiting the Ron Howard/Brian Grazer adaptation that will star Tom Hanks. Like The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure is yet another grail quest, which has already been explored (get it?) to death by the likes of Indiana Jones and Monty Python. Still, despite the predictable plotline, suspending disbelief is hard: There's no way robbing the National Archives could be so easy.

Also, the preview wisely treats the Declaration theft as the focal point of the movie, which it is. It's also the best scene in the movie. Problem is, there's still about two-third of the movie left in which to wonder when Cage and Kruger will fall in love. You know they will, because you've seen this movie, and you'll definitely see it again.

But, until next summer, National Treasure will have to do. And, mostly, it does.

Issue 29, December 2004

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