*. National Treasure is a movie I’d always thought I’d seen, but watching it today I realize I was mistaken. At least I think this was my first time. Though given how generic a movie it is, I’m not sure if I’d just forgotten it completely.
*. Critics were dismissive but box office was huge, leading to a sequel, with a third part reported to be in the works. In general, audiences seem to have really liked it. What accounts for the discrepancy?
*. I don’t think reviewers liked it because of the generic quality I mentioned. Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is Indiana Jones for the new millennium. Or Lara Croft (2001/2003). Or Robert Langdon (Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code had been published the year before, though the movie was still a couple of years away). He’s the adventurous explorer type looking for a secret treasure of the Templars, which was passed down through the Freemasons and squirreled away by America’s Founding Fathers. The key to its location is provided by a secret code written on the back of a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
*. That’s boiler-plate adventure nonsense and none of it makes a lick of sense. But the notion of the Declaration of Independence being a kind of secular scripture, an American Ark of the Covenant, had some attraction at least with domestic audiences, and the recognizable but not shopworn locations are a plus.
*. But while critics yawned the public was pleased. Maybe it was the magic pixie dust of Disney. No bad language. No violence. I believe only the one unfortunate soul actually dies, and that by accident. It’s family entertainment. Even the romance angle between Gates and museum director Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) is kept chaste. When they’re using heat (heavy breathing) and lemon oil to reveal the code and say to each other “we need more juice” and “we need more heat” it’s the closest thing to innuendo the script is going to toss out. And it’s also my favourite scene in the movie.
*. That simplicity I think is the movie’s charm. Also the fact that they keep the action simple. This is no bloated CGI-fest but a movie that mainly gets by on simple stunts and effects. People run down streets and across rooftops, and swing on ropes. It’s old school, which was something I really enjoyed too.
*. Still, it’s a hard movie to get excited about. Cage wasn’t yet in full Cage-mode and comes across as just goofy. I thought this made the presence of the comic sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha) superfluous, but at least he’s there for the ride. Kruger is ridiculously glam for her job, but looks intelligent and no-nonsense enough. Sean Bean seemed thoroughly bored being typecast as the vapid British villain who is just some rich guy who wants the treasure because whatever. Harvey Keitel, playing the FBI agent, shares that same air of indifference. Jon Voight plays Cage’s dad and at least he’s not as annoying and affected as he usually is.
*. In short, there’s nothing offensive about it, but nothing memorable, original, or particularly well done either. It doesn’t take any chances and so doesn’t fail in any significant regard. That it was such a hit suggests a real demand for such modest and inoffensive fare. A demand Disney would be only to happy to meet with more of the same.