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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

National Treasure: Book Of Secrets

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National Treasure: Book Of Secrets

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Buoyed by comments from fellow critics and NT fans alike, I awaited the screening of this sequel with some anticipation. The higher the hopes, it seems, the steeper the fall.

The original cast reunites, this time to clear the Gates name for alleged complicity in the Lincoln assassination via incriminating evidence from a partially burned page from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, (from which eighteen pages are missing). This will never do for the honorable, fact-driven Gates explorers. Clues abound in European and American landmarks and the quest begins.

If you are able to suspend your disbelief like a side of beef in a meat packing plant, you’ll enjoy this romp through countries and states with Ben Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage); father Patrick, (Jon Voight), ex-girlfriend, Abigail Chase, (Diane Kruger) and brilliant but nerdy sidekick, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha). Chase has a new boyfriend, Connor, (Ty Burrell) who happens to be the Press Secretary to the President. This will come in handy later, when access is needed to one of the most classified rooms in the White House. Hey, if your man can’t open doors for you, what good is he?

Patrick Gates hasn’t seen or spoken to ex-wife Professor Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren) in 32 years, but she is the only one on earth who can translate Pre-Colombian glyphs it seems. The former couple is hard-pressed to be in the same room together; at the beginning of the film, that is. You know how a good adventure including gunfire, near drowning, and the threat of plunging into a ravine can get even the most acrimonious couple to bond. Rival archeologist Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) is their nemesis, seeking to make a historical name for himself, thereby gaining immortality – his words.

The trio of Academy Award winners comprises a brainy nuclear family of historians, professors and treasure hunters, searching, translating, sneaking and getting trapped in rooms, caves and caverns. Kind of fun, really, but as far from believability as a vegetarian hosting a pig roast. Desks and wooden planks figure prominently as clues. The gang gets it right on the first try over and over again – just like real life. Well, no, not like real life, but just like Disney.

Along the way, the little group discovers clues to possibly lead them to a centuries-old city of gold named Cibola and that becomes a secondary quest, one the audience can comprehend much more than (silly, worthless) historical accuracy. Or at least the writers think so.

Meanwhile, intrepid FBI Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) is the off-site official (like he was in Thelma & Louise) who is kept informed and surprised by reports of the Gates’ adventures. Always several steps behind, his character has to be on the case, lest we think it really is that easy to plunder national landmarks with impunity.

Even the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) helps Gates with classified knowledge, cluing him in on the Book of Secrets, a presidential tome which reveals the truth behind Area 51, JFK conspiracy, Watergate tapes, little mysteries like that. Watch for Page 47 to figure prominently in the inevitable NT3.

You’ll get chase scenes, crashes, and gun threats. You’ll get clever banter, sneaky escapes, and elaborate schemes. What you won’t get is logical behavior from any of the players or security officials. That’s okay, as long as the Gates name gets cleared – and the golden city hits sunlight for the first time.

Nicholas Cage, stuck with one of his dweebier cinematic hairstyles, forges ahead fearlessly, never a thought about consequences. Jon Voight is the voice of wisdom and common sense, except when it comes to his ex-wife. Helen Mirren brings her distinguished face into the fray, always welcome but rarely so wasted as in these circumstances.

Diane Kruger’s Abigail is only essential to the plot in a contrived way, but there must be a love interest, especially an estranged, sparring couple that discover each other once again. Here there are two of them in different generations, proving you can have love and car chases at any age. Justin Bartha’s Riley Poole is so starved for attention from the opposite sex, he can barely speak when approached by a female; just who I want to have access to national secrets.

Ed Harris has the icy face of a no-goodnik and can believably pull off villainous intent. His part here is too small and shifts abruptly so that we don’t know what to think of him. Unfortunately, he’s reduced to a footnote, a mere throwaway as soon as the plot can resolve itself without him.

Director Jon Turtletaub (the first National Treasure, Phenomenon) sticks close to formula, incorporating most of the elements of the first installment, but not pulling it off nearly as well, I’m told from numerous aficionados. It’s his baby; he can raise it however he wants, but we don’t have to approve.

It’s a sporadically entertaining ride, but realize that you’re not really being driven anywhere. Still, you can vicariously enjoy the lives of these Teflon explorers who live in museum quality homes and drive red Ferraris. Think there’ll be a surge of interest in archeology or history in U.S. school-age children because of this franchise? That would really be Disney magic.

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