November may be late in the year for a summer blockbuster, but too many chases and cliché keep this good movie from being great.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) has been entrusted with a secret: he and his family have been charged with protecting the location of a treasure beyond imagination accumulated over three millennia. Although his father (Jon Voight) has lost faith that the treasure was ever real, Ben finds himself at odds with an entrepreneur (Sean Bean) and in league with a historian (Diane Kruger) when he learns that the next clue is on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
Since the novel The Da Vinci Code became popular and with hints that a feature film would soon follow (currently with Tom Hanks set to star and Ron Howard attached to direct), the idea of a semi-historical mystery-thriller has already captivated waiting audiences. Fortunately for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a script just happened to already be in development featuring American history as a backdrop and could be released in an election year! Whether true or not, having Nic Cage available to star in a Bruckheimer blockbuster was too good for Disney to pass up, and Disney has been itching to repeat Pirates of the Caribbean‘s success.
The mystery portion of this film is a bit on the light side; Cage’s character solves complex riddles within a few moments of screen time (giving audiences not even enough time to scratch their heads), leaving the rest of the film either running to or from locations as the plot twists and turns. While not terrible, it is predictable for anyone who enjoys these kinds of films and more than a little unbelievable at times. As Cage’s Ben keeps crossing paths with Sean Bean’s villain, you get the feeling the film would have been better if the two of them could have stayed together to overcome cooler obstacles to reach their goal.
Cage does fine as an every-man obsessed with the dream of being something more, especially with Jon Voight as his foiling father who grew up with the same dream before giving in to disappointment. Diane Kruger appears as the mandatory romantic entanglement but gets to do little else other than distract Ben (and the audience), while Justin Bartha is permitted to borrow (but stops short of stealing) scenes as a comic-relief tech guru who’s always one step behind the historical intellects.
All the ingredients for a blockbuster film are here, yet there’s still a feeling of manipulation rather than perspiration for the film and story coming together as a whole. For a late-in-the-year pre-election release with no purpose further than to entertain and make a few bucks, National Treasure is still worth a few of your Federal Reserve Notes.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)