September 10, 2008

Finding a National Treasure or: How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love Ben Gates

Forgive me if this seems a bit strained. It's just that Nicolas Cage has been my least favorite actor - by a country mile - for going on about a decade now. The tics, the accents, and the shouting are utterly unbearable for me. So when Fletch asked me to defend the indefensible and write a positive argument for a movie starring Cage, well it was simply a challenge that I had to take on, and a fear that I had finally had to face.

Actually, it wasn't that hard. I love
National Treasure. Moreover, I love Nicolas Cage as treasure hunter Ben Gates. Somehow, someway, a little action-adventure that I didn't see in the theater slowly grew on me over a solid year of every-other-day showings on one of the Encore movie channels. The end result: me sitting in the theater at an opening weekend showing of National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Between the witty, strong-willed woman (Diane Kruger), the sarcastically hilarious sidekick (Justin Bartha), and the deliciously deviant villain (Sean Bean),
National Treasure almost plays like a second generation version of an Indiana Jones movie. And although Ben Gates is no Indy, he has his own charming personality quirks, like knowing archaic colonial ciphers and codes and playing a brilliant game of show-and-tell with the original Declaration of Independence. Best of all, Cage attempts no accent and only has a couple of spaz attacks. The fact is, Indy is the spoiled, handsome action star while Gates is the nerdy underdog hero with the superstitious father (Jon Voight). Who would you rather root for?

If the stereotypical characters and the cheesy dialogue don't satisfy your need for a guilty pleasure, watch National Treasure for some decent action sequences and an insanely elaborate conspiracy theory. Who can't appreciate the entertainment value in that? Also, I haven't even mentioned yet that the National Treasure franchise is one of the few action-adventure series being produced these days that's appropriate for the whole family: no profanity, sex, gory violence, or otherwise inappropriate content, and no dark themes that can misinterpreted as subliminally evil. It's just honest-to-goodness silliness that you can watch with your kids on movie night.

There you go: Nicolas Cage, against all odds, as a provider of fun, wholesome cinematic entertainment.

Now don't anyone dare use that sentence outside of the context of this movie.

[This defense is an entry in CAGEFEST, a "celebration" of selected films starring one Nicolas Cage, hosted by Fletch at Blog Cabins, otherwise known as the shepherd of the LAMBs and the only person who bags on Cage in public more than I do in private.]


  1. The truth is, I don't hate this movie, either. Sure, it's bad, but just as you give it points for being family-friendly, I can't take any away for its badness because it's so harmless. The Indy comparisons bother me, because this series can't hold a 200-year old candle to it, but I suppose I'll live.

  2. I actually enjoyed this one, too, and I'm not a big fan of action/adventure flicks in general. Definitely silly, but also a lot of fun.

  3. A clarification for that, Fletch. The series is not nearly as entertaining or as cool as Indy, it's an action-adventure in the old school mold. I mean really, we don't have movies like this or even something like Back to the Future anymore these days. It's either superheros, supernatural (The Matrix), or superviolent. Also, the National Treasure franchise owes much of its success to Justin Bartha as Riley Poole, one of the better sidekicks in recent years.

    Pat, this is really one of the few Cage movies I could even attempt to defend, and it's mostly because of the silliness that you identify, and that's actually lacking from some of his other movies that take themselves too seriously. I have to admit, Nat Treas 2 was almost too silly at times, but I still had fun with it as well.

  4. I couldn't have too many more issues with number 2 than I have with number 1 since...they're the exact same movie. That was my biggest problem right there.

    Bartha seems to be quite the polarizing actor in this pic. I know lots of folks like you that loved him, and I've seen or heard just as many people rip him to shreds. Personally, I don't know what to think - I thought he was kind of annoying, but a friend of mine tells me that when he watched it, he thought Bartha's character was me (somewhat in terms of looks, but mostly due to my sense of humor). That hurt a bit - I guess I'm a polarizing person, too.

  5. I would take it as a compliment! If you're anything like Riley Poole, people should eat up your dry humor. Nice car, too.

  6. I just saw the second movie last night, and you're right Fletch, it is exactly the same flick. To me, it was a barely passable way to spend a couple of hours on the couch.

    How many fine actors were enlisted in this trifle? Dame Hellen Mirren, Ed Harris and, yes, even Jon Voight, who used to be a legitimate actor. And you know what? I still have fondness in my heart for Cage.

    Besides: Diane Kruger is hot.

  7. So what you're saying is, Nic Cage is entertaining, talented, and pretty much your absolute favorite actor of all time... right? ;-)

  8. It has to be an easy paycheck for them, Rick. Dame Helen Mirren was probably happy to do some fluff after The Queen, anyway, and since these are guaranteed box-office gold, it did no damage to her illustrious career.

    That's pretty much it, Nayana. Plus he's hot, or so I've been told.

  9. Nic Cage hot? I can't speak for the ladies, either, but that's the funniest thing I've ever heard. The man is fugly.

  10. True, true. I tihnk soulful is the word. I stand corrected.

  11. Nic Cage is one of the creepiest actors ever, I dislike him intensely. Needless to say, I haven’t seen this.

  12. I have a man-crush on Nic Cage.

    Between Moonstruck and Raising Arizona, his reputation is secure around the Kennedy household. Ok, sure, he's made more stinkers than not, but I don't care.

    When I get bored, I like to watch this just for a laugh:

    Having said that, never seen a National Treasure movie. Bruckheimer is on my blacklist.

  13. lol, a trip to Nic Cage's soul. Ahhhh.

    Welcome to the club, Nick! You should have been part of Cagefest...

  14. Craig, that's a great clip, but they left out the best part. Duh - the burning!

    I must say, The Wicker Man is rapidly becoming one of my favorite awful movies.

  15. Ah, missed you Craig.

    Thank you for that, by the way. It's scarred into my head since you showed it at LiC. Man I wish I could embed in the comments.

    I guess all I can add about NT is...guilty pleasure? I like it a lot more than The Rock, if that means anything.

  16. I never begrudge a man a guilty pleasure, Daniel.

    Would you believe I've never actually sat down and watched the Wicker Man remake? I'm afraid it will dilute the fun of just seeing the craziest bits all at once.

  17. I did like him a lot in Moonstruck, Raising Arizona and Adaptation, but that’s all. He’s still a creep.

  18. How could I forget Adaptation???

    He was also great in Leaving Las Vegas.

    Anyway, last night when I commented I was trying to think of my own guilty pleasures by way of example and to prove I'm not just a jerk and talking to Nick reminded me I kind of loved Forbidden Kingdom from this year. Incredibly stupid movie that I had a lot of fun with in spite of myself.

  19. The first National Treasure came out in November '04. It stuck around my town's little theatre for over two whole months. After seeing all of the Oscar bait for those two months, and having a break in movies, I decided, "What the heck? I'll see that for no particularly good reason." I did. Aside from being rather lame and kind of a waste of time, I didn't hate it. It was, as others have said, harmless--and it was actually bloodless, too, haha. It was, I imagined, a decent enough, family-friendly movie.

    I don't think I'll ever see the sequel, though. And like fletch, the Indy comparisons bother me, but I'll live.

  20. Unfortunately, I have to admit that NT is not the only Nic Cage movie I can tolerate, the others including Adaptation, The Family Man, Raising Arizona, and Leaving Las Vegas. It's just that I like to attribute anything positive in those movies to the other players - Cooper, Cheadle, Coens, Shue, respectively.

    Now you'll have to excuse me, fate calls. National Treasure just started on the Sci-Fi Channel...

  21. I saw "National Treasure 2" as a favor to a friend. (He was depressed and needed a big, dumb movie to cheer him up.)

    While I probably never would have seen this movie in the theaters otherwise (I watched "NT1" on video), I did find myself enjoying "NT2" -- despite its many ridiculous plot points, annoying characters and historical inaccuracies and improbabilities.

    "National Treasure 2" is fun enough in its way, family-friendly and certainly a safe, mildly educational treat for kids.

    But the film just can't compare to many of its predecessors, especially the Indiana Jones series. (I'm excluding "Indy 4", which was gawdawful.)

  22. Thanks for your thoughts on NT2, Sarah. Funnily enough, I guess we haven't really even touched on the "historical inaccuracies and improbabilities", haha. Yeah I kind of doubt there is a "President's Book" or a city of gold underneath Mount Rushmore. Oh well, I guess I have to give them some credit for being imaginative.


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