I firmly believe there is a treasure hunter in all of us. The possibility of having your name attached to discovering a lost civilization or an artifact worth a fortune are all things we’ve dreamed about at one time or another. It’s the underlying reason that Indiana Jones was so popular (and still is considering Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is due out in 2008). Filling the void until Mr. Jones returns is the National Treasure series with its latest installment: National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
As in the first National Treasure, Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that involves our founding fathers concealing more treasured secrets. Joining him on his quest is his technology guru associate, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and his father, Patrick (Jon Voight). Unwittingly, his ex-wife Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and his mother Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren) find themselves involved with the chase too. Playing his nemesis is Ed Harris as Mitch Wilkinson, a man willing to do anything to get his hands on the prize.
What sets National Treasure: Book of Secrets apart from other action/adventure movies of this nature is its focus ultimately lands squarely on cover-ups and obscure riddles put in place by individuals within the U.S. government and doesn’t stray far from the civilized world. In the first film, Gates was tracking down the treasure of the Knights Templar (Freemasons) and chased down leads on the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell. In this movie he searches for clues at the White House, Windsor Castle and Mount Rushmore, in hopes to learn more about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. I should note that while I do enjoy the exotic locations offered up by the Indy series and any one of the James Bond movies (although Bond isn’t necessarily the same type of movie), it’s good to see well-known landmarks used in interesting ways on subjects I am relatively familiar with.
What I don’t enjoy is the bizarre acting traits Nicolas Cage exhibits when he plays characters on extreme ends of the poles. It’s hard to explain, but whenever he plays geniuses (which Gates is) or other quirky characters he overacts and puts far too much emphasis on that specific attribute. You can see examples of this occurring in films like Matchstick Men, Adaptation. and Face/Off. Seeing as directors like Spike Jonze and Ridley Scott couldn’t reign him in, poor Jon Turteltaub didn’t stand a chance. I find it overly distracting and detrimental to the overall film.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets also suffers from the need to suspend all belief and common sense for the movie to work. It isn’t that big of a problem since all spy thrillers and other related movies require this too, but duping the F.B.I., the secret service and palace guards is one hell of a feat. Equally impressive is Gates’ innate ability to solve complex ciphers within minutes of being exposed to them and Poole’s technological mastery of everything with a battery. Why aren’t these guys working for the government!
All in all, aside from Cage’s tendency to try too damn hard (thankfully Bartha’s whimsical character helps to offset a great deal of it), National Treasure: Book of Secrets is an entertaining way to fill two hours of your time. Plus, it’s also a great way to fuel more government conspiracy theories, since I believe we don’t nearly have enough of them. Conspiracists unite!