There's a scene in National Treasure where our hero is hanging precariously from a collapsed staircase and faces the split second decision: does he save a beautiful woman or the original Declaration of Independence from falling into an abyss? And haven't we all put ourselves in that situation? Anyway, he saves the Declaration of Independence. The beautiful woman's fall is broken by a handy platform sticking out from the abyss. Moments later she's assuring the hero she would have done the save thing. His respect for the Declaration of Independence only makes her love him more. Now it's back to finding the treasure of unimaginable riches our Founding Fathers buried under Manhattan.
Welcome to the latest film from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The writers and directors may change but when Bruckheimer decides to make a popcorn movie the rules are clear: find the top and then go over it. Even with a resume that includes Armageddon, Con Air and The Rock, National Treasure finds Bruckheimer soaring to new heights of over-the-topness. If you are the kind of person who says "oh please!" out loud when something strikes you as ludicrous, National Treasure is not the movie for you, or the people sitting next to you. But who, if not Jerry Bruckheimer, is still making films in the spirit of the old Saturday Matinee? I suspect National Treasure knows it is ludicrous, and if you are willing to check your brain at the door it might carry you through the next couple hours on sheer moxie.
Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, who has inherited the family legacy of discredited conspiracy theorists. A long line of Gates men have spent their lives in vain trying to locate the greatest treasure in world history. They've been vexed by the cryptic clues they believe were left by America's Founding Fathers to keep these corrupting riches from falling into the wrong hands. The wrong hands just happen to belong to Gates' treasure hunting partner Ian Howe, played by Sean Bean, who unlike Gates would absolutely kill to have untold riches. Word to the founding fathers: next time donít leave clues. But Ben Gates has more at stake: the family name and the approval of his father, played by Jon Voight, the only man in the Gates line who has tried to distance himself from all this obsessive hogwash. When the clues lead to the Declaration of Independence, the quest is enjoined by a lovely director of the National Archives, played by Diane Kruger. Harvey Keitel can be seen sleepwalking through his role as a federal investigator whose agents stay a step behind the action until the movie actually needs them.
Lord knows National Treasure is not a message movie but just to be safe it takes a freewheeling stab at patriotism. In Bruckheimer's America, the Founding Fathers were a heady mix of James Bond, the Knights of Templar and The Big Mac Daddies of Serious Bling-Bling. Laws are broken in order to uphold larger ideals. And the hero who loves his America profoundly, who seeks nobility and truth above material wealth, is ultimately rewarded with lots of material wealth. And the hot chick.
And why, in the name of the Saturday matinee, should it be any different?
© 2004 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 11/17/04
USA - 2004