Unless you really love déjà vu experiences, there’s no legitimate reason to sit through National Treasure: Book of Secrets
in a theater. The first film didn’t exactly break new ground, but at least it was a fun romp through history that sort of made a twisted kind of sense if you didn’t analyze it closely. A straight-to-DVD sequel released theatrically on the strength of the cast (Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren’s even in this one), this second National Treasure
movie attempts to cash in on the goodwill the original film built up by imitating it as closely as possible, right down to a nearly identical finale.
The whole film reeks of a ‘been there, done that’ scent. Yes, the actual physical locations have changed, but the story – along with the key players - remains pretty much the same. Even the action scenes are eerily reminiscent of what took place in National Treasure
, with the addition of a super-long car chase sequence that has to be one of the most far-fetched in film history.
Nicolas Cage is back as Benjamin Franklin Gates: treasure hunter extraordinaire. Ben and his dad Patrick (Jon Voight) are pleased as punch to be able to publicly recognize Ben’s great-grandfather as a civilian hero who burned a page of John Wilkes Booth’s diary in order to keep a secret Confederate society from finding a lost city of gold. The publicity surrounding the Gates’ ancestor prompts Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) into coming forward and denouncing the elder Gates as a traitor who conspired with Booth to kill President Lincoln. Wilkinson…Wilkes…is there a connection? We’ll never know because that would send the film off on a different path than its predecessor.
Diane Kruger and Nicolas Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.© Walt Disney Pictures
Wilkinson produces a piece of evidence that, on the surface, appears incontrovertible. Mitch’s family has had in their possession for decades the missing page from Booth’s diary. Why they’ve held onto such an important piece of the nation’s history isn’t questioned by anyone other than FBI Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel). That’s right; the very same FBI agent involved in Gates’ first big treasure hunt is back. Because, obviously, he has nothing better to do than keep track of treasure hunters, Sadusky sets aside any other important case he’s working on to keep tabs on Gates and Wilkinson.
Meanwhile, the Gates men along with their trusty sidekick and deliverer of one-liners, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), and Gates’ ex, Abigail (Diane Kruger), discover a clue on the Booth diary page and take off on an international treasure hunt that leads them to the Statue of Liberty (no, not the one in NY), the Queen’s desk in Buckingham Palace, the President’s desk at the White House, and a top secret book that only the sitting United States President is supposed to know exists. Ben has to kidnap the President in order to get the book’s location. It’s that top secret.
Passed down from President to President, all of America’s dirty little secrets (including the truth about Kennedy’s assassination and Area 51) are contained within the book’s pages. The secret book storyline is actually kind of interesting, but unfortunately it’s not fully explored. Instead, there are extended bits with Ben Gates’ mom (and Patrick’s ex-wife) played by Oscar-winner Mirren. And, of course, everything mom tells Ben leads them all into a heap of trouble below ground in secret rooms with dangerous ladders. Stop me if you’ve heard this before…
The cast is what it is. Cage yells and does a really strange British accent at one point. Kruger has a difficult time wrapping her lips around an American accent. Bartha’s exactly the same as he was in the first film except this time around the whole sidekick shtick has gotten a little old. And Voight, Mirren and Harris (taking over the villain role from National Treasure’s Sean Bean) plug along doing their best to add a little oomph.
Nicolas Cage on the hunt in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.© Walt Disney Pictures
To Sum It Up
Things come very, very easily for Gates and crew in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. In fact, some bits fall into place so quickly you have to wonder why no one else has found the lost city of gold before – even without the critical pieces of evidence. Connecting the dots this time around just isn’t as much fun thanks in large part to the recycled nature of the plot and way too many implausible setups.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets was directed by Jon Turteltaub and is rated PG for some violence and action.