Like a Hardy Boys mystery on steroids, National Treasure offers popcorn thrills and enough boyish charm to overcome its rampant silliness. Although it was roundly criticized as a poor man's rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Da Vinci Code, it's entertaining on its own ludicrous terms, and Nicolas Cage proves once again that one actor's infectious enthusiasm can compensate for a multitude of movie sins. The contrived plot involves Cage's present-day quest for the ancient treasure of the Knights Templar, kept secret through the ages by Freemasons past and present. Finding the treasure requires the theft of the Declaration of Independence (there are crucial treasure clues on the back, of course), so you can add "caper comedy" to this Jerry Bruckheimer production's multi-genre appeal. Nobody will ever accuse director Jon Turtletaub of artistic ambition, but you've got to admit he serves up an enjoyable dose of PG-rated entertainment, full of musty clues, skeletons, deep tunnels, and harmless adventure in the old-school tradition. It's a load of hokum, but it's fun hokum, and that makes all the difference. --Jeff Shannon
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
Less engrossing than its 2004 predecessor National Treasure, Jon Turteltaubs busy sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is nevertheless a colourful and witty adventure, another race against overwhelming odds for the answer to a historical riddle. Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), the treasure hunter who feverishly sought the whereabouts of a war chest hidden by Americas forefathers in the first film, is now charged with protecting family honour. When a rival (Ed Harris) offers alleged proof that Gates ancestor, Thomas Gates, was not a Civil War-era hero but a participant in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Ben and his father (Jon Voight) and crew (Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger) hopscotch through Paris, London, Washington DC, and South Dakota to gather evidence refuting the claim.
The film is most fun when the hunt, as in National Treasure, squeezes Ben into such impossible situations as examining twin desks in the Queens chambers in Buckingham Palace and the White Houses Oval Office, or kidnapping an American president (Bruce Greenwood) for a few minutes of frank talk. Helen Mirren, the previous year's Oscar winner for Best Actress, wisely joins the cast of a likely hit film as Bens archaeologist mother, long-estranged from Voights character but as feisty as the rest of the family. Returning director Turteltaub takes excellent advantage of his colorful backdrops in European capitals and the always-eerie Mount Rushmore, and oversees some wildly imaginative sets for this dramedys feverish third act in an audacious and completely unexpected, legendary setting. If National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets doesnt feel quite as crisp and unique as its predecessor, it is still ingenious and wry enough to laugh a bit at itself. --Tom Keogh
Double bill of action/adventure. In 'National Treasure' (2004), Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, an archaeologist from the seventh generation of a family of treasure-seekers who have all shared the same quest: to discover the whereabouts of an old war chest full of gold hidden by the founding fathers in the last days of the Revolutionary War. Ben must work against the clock to unravel the clues embedded in the original drafts of two key historical documents - the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence - before his criminal ex-partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean), or the FBI - led by Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) - get their mitts on the loot. Helping him in his quest is beautiful archivist Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). In 'National Treasure 2 - Book of Secrets' (2008), Nicolas Cage reprises his role as artefact hunter and archaeologist, Ben Franklin Gates. When a missing page from the diary of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, surfaces, one of Ben's ancestors is implicated as a conspirator in the murder. In an attempt to clear their family's name, Ben and his father, Mitch (Jon Voight), travel the globe in search of the other missing pages from Booth's diary. The journey leads Ben and his crew not only to surprising revelations, but to the trail of the world's most treasured secrets.