Saturday, May 31, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

2007, US, directed by Jon Turteltaub

The first National Treasure film was tremendous fun, an unexpectedly fluent updating of the Indiana Jones series for the digital age, with a little more emphasis on codes and books and a little less on action heroics, with some enjoyable inter-character banter. The second film, unfortunately, feels like a pallid photocopy of everything that made the first installment so entertaining, while the references to other films - from All the President's Men in the Library of Congress scenes to North by Northwest in the big finale at Mount Rushmore - only underline that this is a weak concoction.

The biggest problem is that despite the frenetic, country-hopping plot - the film almost never sits still, and the one sequence where two characters have a conversation on a couch is fraught with danger - the plot seems entirely too predictable. Early on it becomes obvious that the characters will easily wriggle out of whatever troubles they face with little real difficulty. Somehow, the first film managed to sustain the tension - the tiny, niggling "what-if-they-don't-make-it?" voice - that's essential for this kind of thing to work (it's one of the reasons for the success of the three Pirates of the Caribbean films, also produce by Jerry Bruckheimer: unexpected outcomes aren't ruled out in advance).

While the historical and quasi-historical elements of the plot are reasonably absorbing, and the breakneck pacing disguises the fact that the film doesn't do a great job of connecting the dots (not that this is really the point), the film's absurdities, especially the relationship between good guys and bad guys, eventually collapse under their own weight. As the film progresses, Nicolas Cage and his team seem to conveniently forget that their nemesis has used very real guns against them, while the fact that there can be a bullet-strewn chase sequence in London (great fun, incidentally, and perhaps the film's best set-piece) with no apparent police interference stretches credibility just a little further than it's willing to go, even for a treasure-hunting tale. It's a pity, too, that the banter of the first film, especially between Cage's Ben Gates and his sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha) is much more muted here, even if Helen Mirren adds an agreeable spikiness to proceedings, especially in her first two scenes.


Campaspe said...

Mount Rushmore - really? but did they actually get to go up Lincoln's Nose? :D

Gareth said...

I wish. It was all very tame: the denouement took place nearby, not even on the monument. Bleh.


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Boston, Massachusetts, United States