Full ReviewForget all the patriotic prose about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" on the front of the Declaration of Independence. It turns out that the Founding Fathers put the really important stuff on the flip side. At least, that is, according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub, in the entertaining but forgettable action adventure "National Treasure" (Touchstone).
Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a third-generation fortune hunter and American history buff, who has spent his life searching for a fabled treasure trove, which no one, not even his disillusioned father (Jon Voight), believes actually exists.
An opening scene set in 1974 establishes the origins of Gates' obsession. As a boy, he listens wide-eyed to his grandfather (Christopher Plummer) regaling him with a fantastic tale about how an ancient treasure -- amassed over centuries and buried under King Solomon's temple -- was plundered by Crusaders and later smuggled to the New World, where the Founding Fathers hid it during the American Revolution. To ensure that it wouldn't be lost to future generations, they created an elaborate system of clues about its whereabouts, embedding them in historic landmarks and the symbols adorning the backs of dollar bills.
He also tells his grandson that, before his death in 1832, Charles Carroll -- the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence -- entrusted information regarding the legendary loot's location to one of their ancestors, making the Gates family guardians of the treasure. The film refers to Carroll -- a Catholic -- as being a member of a secret Masonic order, a claim unsubstantiated by historical records (though granted, historical accuracy is hardly a concern here).
Flash forward to the present. Gates and his shadowy backer Ian Howe (Sean Bean) find themselves one step closer to the spoils, when an encrypted message on a colonial-era smoking pipe directs them to a treasure map imprinted with invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Complicating matters, Howe reveals his true ruthless colors and tries to kill Gates.
Knowing that Howe will try to filch the Declaration, Gates rationalizes that, to protect the priceless document, he must steal it first, with the help of his generic computer-whiz sidekick (Justin Bartha). But during the heist he also takes on unwanted baggage in the person of conservator and perfunctory love interest Abigail (Diane Kruger).
The movie then shifts into cat-and-mouse mode, as the threesome embark on a mad scramble to decipher the map's riddles, including clue-finding detours to Philadelphia's Independence Hall and Manhattan's historic Trinity Church.
Combining Indiana Jones-accented action sequences with "Da Vinci Code" cabalistic intrigue, "National Treasure" makes for diverting popcorn fare; just don't expect much in the way of three-dimensional characters or story logic. A copy of Thomas Paine's 1776 tract, "Common Sense," surfaces in one scene, which is exactly what the implausible script is sorely missing. Cage is appealing enough, but lacks any chemistry with Kruger, a problem compounded by the film's lame dialogue.
Mixing fact and fiction, the film plays fast and loose with history, seasoning its clandestine conceit with plot references to secret societies like the Freemasons and the Knights Templar. On a positive note, "National Treasure," though full of chases and explosions, keeps its action relatively tame. Moreover, it centers on a hero who relies more on brains than brawn and who, refreshingly, never fires a gun.
Still, while it would be overly harsh to label the movie a national disaster, much of this "Treasure" turns out to be fool's gold.
Due to recurring action violence and some frightening images, the USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested.
These movies have been evaluated for artistic merit and moral suitability by the media reviewing division of Catholic News Service. The reviews include the CNS rating, the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and a brief synopsis of the movie.
The classifications are as follows:
A-I -- general patronage;
A-II -- adults and adolescents;
A-III -- adults;
L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. L replaces the previous classification, A-IV.
O -- morally offensive.
Note: Some movies previously were designated A-IV. Older films with this classification should be regarded as classified L.