National Treasure (4/10)

by Tony Medley

There are some good things I can say about National Treasure. First, there is no nudity. Second, there is no profanity. Third, there is no extramarital sex without commitment or responsibility. That’s about it.

Movies are entertainment, not life. So one must suspend disbelief to a certain extent. Unfortunately, Director Jon Turteltaub, and his screenwriters and story creators too numerous to mention (generally a clue that there’s a bad movie in store), insert not one scene in this film that is credible. Not one! This film is so totally divorced from reality as to be pure, unadulterated nonsense.

From the opening scenes somewhere above the Arctic Circle where they find a ship that has been buried in the snow for 200 years, but where doors still open and things still work, to one of the more preposterous climaxes in the history of film, this movie flunks every test of believability.

Benjamin Franklin (Ben) Gates (Nicholas Cage) gets told a tall tale by his grandfather, John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer) and is hooked on the tale that there is a map to a hidden treasure in many of our government documents, the most notable of which is the Declaration of Independence.

Diane Kruger appears as Abigail Chase (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Abigail, famous Revolutionary War names, get it?). Kruger is making a career of roles that only require her to be beautiful (Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, in Troy, Lisa, an elusive beauty in Wicker Park). This one is no exception. I wonder if she can act? But, who cares? She’s so beautiful probably nobody pays any attention to anything she says or does on screen, anyway. Abigail is some kind of Government official whose responsibility apparently includes the task of seeing to it that Gates doesn’t steal the Declaration. Sad to say, she fails.

Turteltaub & Co. don’t really make much of an effort to have their characters do things that the viewer will understand or buy into. When Ben and his buddy, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), are stranded in the middle of nowhere miles above the Arctic Circle, Ben says, “There’s a camp 9 miles north,” as if they would be walking down the block to the nearest Sav-On. Surviving that ordeal might have made a good movie, but the next time we see them they’re in Washington, D.C., planning to steal the Declaration. The theft of the Declaration is so convoluted that Turteltaub doesn’t bother to explain how these two guys could pull off such a sophisticated caper in such a short period of time. The actors do things that aren’t explained at all. Just in case you are terminally confused by all their machinations, Trevor Rabin’s music constantly reminds us that this is a chase movie.

And it’s Ian Howe (Sean Bean), Ben’s former compatriot, who’s doing the chasing. He wants the treasure and doesn’t care who gets hurt. There’s no reason to worry about anybody getting hurt, though, because Howe’s partners in evil might be up for the Oscar for the worst shots in the history of film. Despite spraying bullets all over the place, they never hit anybody. They hit things that make ricochet sounds, though, so that keeps reminding us that we are watching a chase film, just in case the music hasn’t done its job.

If you didn’t know how brilliant our Founding Fathers were, according to Turteltaub & Co. they devised devilishly clever hiding places where things will work 200 years later at the snap of a finger. What they constructed to hide the treasure was truly an engineering marvel. Not only does everything work after 225 years, but Ben knows just what buttons to push and what to light. Unanswered is why did our Founding Fathers, who were so brilliant in setting up the first working Democracy, go to so much trouble to construct this Byzantine scheme to hide this treasure and then leave a bunch of arcane clues that only Gates can decipher more than two centuries hence? When did they have time? How did they keep such a massive project secret? And, as I recall my American History, the new country was woefully short on funds. So they hid this treasure instead of cashing it in? Even for a movie, this is too much to stomach.

It doesn’t take Ben long to figure all the clues out, either. Even though he’s been at it all his life, all he has to do when he decides that something is a clue is to walk around a little, mumble, and then, Eureka! he’s got it! What a guy! What a dismal tale!

November 17, 2004

The End