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"National Treasure"

Directed by Jon Turteltaub.
Written by Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Sean Bean.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  12/5/04


"National Treasure" has got one of the most ridiculous plots in recent memory, it's directed by the same genius that gave us "3 Ninjas" and it stars Nicolas Cage in full "show-me-the-money" mode as an old-school adventurer.

So, why doesn't this movie suck?  I've been spending the last 24 hours trying to figure it out, trying to figure out why I was sitting in the theater Saturday afternoon with my friend Rodney White and his preggers wife Bree "Elastipants" White not bored to death watching a PG-rated family booty hunt.

We, educated American citizens, are asked to believe that there is a treasure map inked on the back of the Declaration of Independence, put there by ancient ancestors to keep the British from stealing untold riches from said ancestors.  This, in and of itself, is actually pretty cool.  Respected treasure hunter Benjamin Gates (Cage) thinks so as well, since he has dedicated his life to finding this treasure; with the help of his trusty assistant Riley (Justin Bartha, they have spent many years trying to track down clue after clue that might lead to the discovery of it.  After discovering that this treasure can only be located with the use of the Declaration, Gates is betrayed by a wealthy investor named Ian (Sean Bean, happily back in bad guy mode) and he must go up against Ian to snag the Declaration and learn the location of the booty.

There's only one minor catch--the Declaration is, as one may have guessed, ridiculously well protected all hours of the day by the finest security our government can offer to a piece of parchment...ALL HOURS OF THE DAY EXCEPT FOR A TWO-HOUR STRETCH DURING A ONCE-A-CENTURY PRIVATE PARTY.  That's right--for two hours or so, during a time when the National Archives is having some anniversary gala, there is apparently no one watching maybe the most important document in America.

If you can get over how the document is hilariously jacked from the government's hands, then you will have no problem watching a film like "National Treasure."  It's a family adventure film with very harmless action, excellent pacing, studio formula plotting and a funny line delivered by Bartha exactly every three minutes.  (In fact, this has got to be the work of someone extremely well versed in Hollywood studio formula...wait a second, it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer!  Who would have thunk it????)  Cage looks like he is putting forth just enough effort and charm to make this work...although when Cage is appropriately motivated, he wouldn't let little bad acting things happen.

Example #1--facial expressions when being fired upon.  Now, the Nic Cage working in something like "The Rock" when he was playing someone not accustomed to being shot at would have looked genuinely scared when someone pulled a gun on him.  In "National Treasure", gunfire appears to be an everyday occurrence to him; odd, given that Gates is a normal Joe Schmo that happens to collect old stuff.

Example #2--in scenes where Gates is supposed to be thinking about what clues mean, it seems like he is reciting dialogue, rather than genuinely looking like he is pondering a fact.  This is going to seem minor to 99% of America, but for me, I love watching actors chew on the fat and Cage never seems to do that in "National Treasure."

Little guest appearances by name brands like Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer and Jon Voight give "National Treasure" validity and stature.  Diane Kruger gives the film an A-class hottie, and location shots in DC always make me happy.  Plus, we even get a solid ending, something many studio blockbusters have failed to deliver in recent months.

The flick does run too long.  Yep, I started to gag during an obligatory we're-about-to-die-so-I-might-as-well-kiss-you moment; why, Hollywood, why must you continue to spoon-feed these types of scenes to me???  Yes, even now, I honestly can't believe someone wrote a script where a man steals the freakin' Declaration of Independence during a tea-and-crumpets social hour by making us believe that the entire guard staff went out to watch a Wizards game or take a walk or some other bullshit...come on!

But, hey, I can't lie--"National Treasure" is a good time and the kind of film you leave slightly ashamed to say that you liked it.  Kind of like me.  Right now.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09