In a story even more far fetched than the last one, Nic Cage and company prove that enjoyable characters can make up for a lot of bad plot.
After taking only a teeny share of the last “National Treasure,” Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is drawn into another such hunt for untold and historical (or is that hysterical?) riches beyond imagination. This time, Ed Harris replaces Sean Bean as the gun-toting bad guy out for himself, and it will take the combined efforts of Gates’ on-again off-again girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and unlucky-with-the-ladies tech-support guru Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) to hold our attention long enough to find this year’s big treasure trove (which the US government probably gets to keep again).
When National Treasure appeared out of nowhere two years ago and started mopping up the holiday season at the box office, it was easy to write the starting franchise off as a Da Vinci Code ripoff, which it pretty much was. What no one could have predicted at the time that the ripoff was far more interesting and entertaining that the upcoming film being ripped off (‘So lame the hair of Tom’.) Being a Jerry Bruckheimer film, there was little doubt that a sequel (or two) would soon be in the works, and while it isn’t quite as epic or plausible as the original, it’s entertaining enough to put your brain in neutral and watch fun characters destroying history.
The biggest problem in the first Treasure film was the filmmakers creating awesome puzzles and then providing no time for the audiences to solve them before revealing the answer… why create an such an intricate thinking puzzle to start with? In the sequel, any pretense of actual puzzle solving has been replaced with globe trotting, secret combinations, and trap doors, basically Tomb Raider with Nic Cage instead of Angelina Jolie. Also, the catalyst for this treasure hunt doesn’t seem to have the urgency; the bad guy is basically waiting for Gates to do all the work for him. There are plenty of opportunities in the film to just stop and call the cops, but the show must and very much does go on.
Along with a few clever set pieces, there’s not many surprises left out of the trailers, just the filler between the high notes of the plot. There’s also a setup for the third film that’s repeated so many times and so deliberately that only someone waiting in line at the concession stand would fail to notice it. Since we’re pretty sure everyone in this film has already inked their contracts for the “final” National Treasure film, all we ask is for a story a little more plausible and engaging to let these characters really shine instead of single-handedly holding up a fun but forgettable film at best.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)