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Thursday, December 27, 2007

National Treasure ~ Book of Secrets

Really, when I read the words National Treasure: Book of Secrets, I almost soiled my dainties. I may be innately modest, but my first reaction was to think someone had stolen my diary and made a movie of the juicier bits. I rushed to my secret hiding place in the wall safe behind the life-sized ‘Elvis in Vegas’ statue that proudly guards the entry to my boudoir and was relieved to find that volumes one through seventy eight were still securely intact, waiting for the right moment to be sprung on an unsuspecting world, when the opportunity for extortion or publication is ripest. But not. quite. yet. So, knowing my Books of Secrets were untouched, I felt obliged to investigate just who this “National Treasure” was and what his or her “Book of Secrets” might be. More important, I wanted to make sure there was no dirt on me in it, and if there was, I had better be portrayed on screen by someone closer in appearance to Nicole Kidman than to Dame Edna.

So I settled into my seat at the
Essex Cinemas and soon realized with a mixture of regret and relief that this was nothing more than a sequel to Nicolas Cage’s 2004 film called National Treasure, which I had completely forgotten about because it was really just a bogus Indiana Jones movie without Harrison Ford. Oh, I’m sure there are those of you who will object to that, but it is true. And seeing National Treasure: Book of Secrets just proves my point. The only thing missing on Nic Cage’s head is Indy’s fedora, which would have been a heaven-sent blessing considering the frighteningly plastic-looking hair Cage has on display throughout.

It’s never a good thing when you are watching a movie and paying more attention to the star’s hair than the dialogue, worse yet if it is an action adventure and the special effects are supposed to be so overwhelming as to overshadow the human element of the film, but you find yourself, like me, mesmerized by the ungodly color and texture of Cage’s odd doo no matter what was happening, and that was a lot.

In
National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Cage (Next) is back as treasure hunter Benjamin Gates, who this time around is embroiled in a mission to disprove the allegations made by a fellow historian, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris; Gone Baby Gone), that Ben’s great grandfather was a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Now, I’m going to be honest here and tell you that if this was me, I wouldn’t give a rat’s wazoo if I found out my great grandfather wore Queen Victoria’s bloomers and turned out to be Satan himself. It wouldn’t motivate me to do the things Ben does to clear his ancestor’s name. Of course, he does also find out that this plan to kill the President was somehow tangled up in the passing on of a very convoluted treasure map that would lead to a lost city of gold built by American Indians long before white men came to America. Naturally, that entire civilization later vanished without a trace.

Joining Ben is his estranged wife Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger; The Hunting Party), who he had just met in the original movie. I’d say this was a marriage that lasted about as long as one of Pam Anderson’s , but you already know that by the end of the picture they are bound to reconcile and
all will be kissy-huggy again. This is just how movies work. Also on board is that yummy slice of beefcake Riley Poole (Justin Bartha; Failure to Launch) as Ben’s tagalong genius/dimbulb assistant, who never gets the girl (or boy) even though he is hotter than David Beckham, which makes zero sense. Ben’s dad Patrick (Jon Voight; Transformers) is also on hand to provide comic relief and paternal caution when needed. He is especially essential in this chapter since the producers decided to amp up the star power by signing on geriatric pin-up gal and this year’s Oscar winner for Best Actress Helen Mirren (The Queen) to play Ben’s mother and Patrick’s extremely estranged ex-wife. She’s a hoot as an American Ancient Languages Professor, stashing her vehy British achcent for a Midwestern twang as she wheezes out bon mots of her angry disgust for her former husband before eventually succumbing to his seemingly non-existent charms. What she saw in him forty years ago must have been powerful, but then that would have been back in the 1960s, so we can always blame it on hallucinogenics, which might explain Nicolas Cage in so many, any ways.

One great turn of events in the search for the City of Gold, Sebola, involves breaking into Buckingham Palace and Queen Elizabeth’s private study. I found it a terrible disappointment that the filmmakers missed the opportunity to place a photograph of Mirren as The Queen from her signature role amongst the props of the monarch’s office. It would have made for a delicious inside joke, but jokes are few and far between in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and that is a problem. Unlike the Indiana Jones trilogy (soon to be a quartet), this franchise takes itself way too seriously and it barely cracks a smile even when there is ample room to do so. Other than Bartha’s Ridley, the rest of the cast seems to take all of this as if it is Shakespearean in nature.

Did they read the script? They end up crawling around on top of Mount Rushmore, looking for
mystical signs left by the ancient Indians by pouring bottled water on the rocks. There are miles and miles of mountainous rocks there and how long does it take for them to find what they are looking for? Three minutes and four bottles of Poland Water? Oh please. Ben kidnaps the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood; Firehouse Dog) right out from under the noses of the Secret Service, and then the Prez doesn’t for a second question his captor’s motives? Like that’s going to happen. They bebop all over Europe and America en masse without so much as a teensy weensy mention of so much as a gold card or a whiff of cash. And then, of course, there is the very idea of Sebola, which I won’t get into telling you about here save to say that the whole idea that a solid gold city full of Mayan temples and whatnots could ~ or would ~ be hidden away by anybody for hundreds of years without some greedy bastards sneaking in and chopping away at it is far-fetched enough, but when you learn who’s behind the scam and where Sebola is you’ll think you’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone (or The Watergate Hotel ~ hint, hint).

I actually didn’t hate
National Treasure: Book of Secrets the way a lot of critics have, mostly because they view it as low-brow “junk food” for the middle classes, which it is, but I ask you: Is that so wrong? We are already a country of obese mouth-breathers, so what’s a little more popcorn to keep us coming back to the multiplex? I say "Eat Up!" It's better than most of the stuff served up this season so far.

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