out of Five
Running time: 131
Enjoyable, family-friendly adventure, low on action set-pieces, but with a strong sense of fun, enlivened by amusing performances from Cage and Bartha.
Cinema audiences know what to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer film, which may explain why National Treasure has just spent an impressive two weeks at the number one spot at the U.S. box office. All the familiar Bruckheimer ingredients are present and correct: a high-concept plot, explosions, chase sequences, a wise-cracking hero, an up-and-coming starlet as the love interest and a thumping soundtrack.
This time, however, Bruckheimer has pulled an even sneakier move – instead of his usual target audience of 15 year old boys, he’s softened the edges a bit and come up with a family-friendly action romp, in which there’s no bad language and only one person gets killed.
Hidden Treasure Of Knights Templar
Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter whose family have been on the trail of the lost treasure of the Knights Templar for generations. Believing the treasure to have been hidden by America’s Founding Fathers (Freemasons to a man), Gates is double-crossed by his – surprise! - British partner, Ian (Sean Bean), just as he gets his first break in the 200 year old mystery and discovers that there’s an invisible treasure map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence!
A desperate race to read the map ensues, with Gates assisted by his wise-cracking assistant Riley (Justin Bartha, salvaging his career from the horror of Gigli), his sceptical father (Jon Voight) and foxy National Archives official Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel comes out of retirement to play yet another dogged FBI man, hot on their trail…
National Treasure has already drawn comparisons to Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code, itself due to be adapted by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks next year. It’s actually closer to the TV series Alias, with the “historical” clues merely an excuse for the next action sequence.
That said, the film is surprisingly short on action set-pieces: after the obligatory explosion at the beginning, the highlights are a high-speed car chase (complete with that much-loved spectacle of characters dangling from ambulance doors) and an impressive, race-against-time, simultaneous heist sequence. Less impressive sequences include a rather dull foot chase and a badly-shot and edited climax on a rickety staircase.
Boys Own Adventure
That aside, the movie is still a lot of fun, largely thanks to the efforts of the cast and the Boys’ Own Adventure-style thrill of watching Gates figure out the clues. To that end, Cage is extremely well cast and gives a likeable and very funny performance, peppered with amusing tics and mannerisms, for example, when the staircase is giving way under him and he rolls his eyes to the heavens, as if to say, “Not again!” Similarly, Bartha does a brilliant job with the comic sidekick role and gets most of the best lines.
As for the rest of the cast, Sean Bean gives good Euro-villain and Diane Kruger is better here than she’s been elsewhere, though that’s not saying very much. At any rate, she manages to hold her own in the witty dialogue exchanges and there’s a hint of actual chemistry between her and Cage.
In short, National Treasure may be dumb and relatively short on action scenes, but it’s still a lot of fun, largely thanks to Cage and Bartha. As for Jerry Bruckheimer, he might just have created an Indiana Jones franchise for the noughties.