December 22, 2007

REVIEW: National Treasure: Book of Secrets (B-)

Background: Director Jon Turtletaub and screenwriting couple Cormac and Marianne Wibberley join forces again to follow up on their 2004 smash National Treasure. The trio of Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider, World Trade Center), Diane Kruger (Troy), and Justin Bartha are all back for the sequel, along with Jon Voight (Transformers) and Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction). Joining the regulars this time are Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone). As with the first film, the sequel was filmed all over the world, from Paris to South Dakota, where Helen Mirren reportedly had to stay and pass up an opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of her Oscar-winning performance in The Queen.

Synopsis: Treasure hunter Ben Gates (Cage) and his father Patrick (Voight) are shocked to find out that their ancestor Thomas Gates was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, according to evidence presented by bad guy Mitch Wilkinson (Harris). Ben enlists the help of Riley Poole (Bartha) and his ex-girlfriend Abigail Chase (Kruger) to find a new treasure, one that involves trekking to Paris, London, the Oval Office, and Mount Rushmore. Oh, and also kidnapping the president to find out about the location of the secret "President's Book." The Gates team is in an "Amazing Race" against Wilkinson's crew, which sorely lacks the gadgetry and comedic relief of Riley Poole. Eventually all roads lead to a secret city buried behind Mount Rushmore, and somehow Thomas Gates is vindicated. A nice cliffhanger is also tacked on, surely foreshadowing a third National Treasure.

I Loved:
+ That the movie doesn't take itself seriously.
+ Justin Bartha as Riley Poole, once again. I don't know how he can be funny without being annoying, but he can.
+ The ridiculous high-tech wizardry - nothing is impossible to crack.

I Liked:
+ The musical score, same as in the original National Treasure.
+ Helen Mirren and Ed Harris, each of whom fit perfectly for their new role.

I Disliked:
- Diane Kruger's lingering German accent.
- The somewhat drawn-out ending.

I Hated:
- That it wasn't really a good movie. Lots of star power, but not enough charm or care taken with script to make it an Indiana Jones-quality movie.

Writing - 8
Acting - 8
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 2

Total: 40/50= 80% = B-

Last Word: You simply can't take National Treasure: Book of Secrets seriously. Let's get that out of the way first. It's a Disney adventure movie with improbable twists, sensational stunts, and some light comedy and romance thrown in. OK, full disclosure: I loved the original National Treasure. Maybe it just grew on me because it was on the Starz channel every day, but it's a good time. I've got good news if you're with me on that - the sequel delivers. I still can't really follow the plot (basically, where does it come from?), but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying either installment thus far. The humor and action are plentiful and appropriate here, though I could have used some more wisecracking out of Justin Bartha as Riley Poole. Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger have their bickering in good form, and Ed Harris fills in nicely for Sean Bean as the "bad" treasure hunter. National Treasure: Book of Secrets is more entertaining fluff than I usually see, but it's about as close as you can get to old-school adventure comedies these days.

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