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PCR # 244  (Vol. 5, No. 48)  This edition is for the week of November 22--28, 2004.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"National Treasure"

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova
Two and a half stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Disney/Buena Vista     
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Krugar, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Although the critics have savaged this picture, and not without some good reason, I won't be nearly as hard on it and found this to be a fun, if indeed plot-hole filled, way to spend a couple hours. The investment in on-location shooting, the formidable talent in much of the cast, and a dandy idea for an adventure movie should've resulted in a near-classic. And while it delivers some good, cheap thrills and Nicholas Cage as an unlikely hero, I'm afraid it ain't no classic. Take the inspiration from the bestseller "The DaVinci Code", mix in 2 parts "Indiana Jones", 2 parts "The X-Files", and 4 very big portions of "The Goonies" (except with adults) and you basically have "National Treasure".

Ten-year-old Benjamin Franklin Gates is rooting around in the family attic for clues to a story he's been hearing passed down to him about a secret treasure left behind by America's founding fathers. Benjamin's family has been searching for the answers for decades and have all failed, even to the point of public derision. Ben's grandfather, the elder Gates (a touching cameo by Christopher Plummer) stumbles upon the scene and encourages the boy to seek his own answers. The boy's father (Jon Voight), seeing the impression his father (Plummer) is making, sternly admonishes his father for encouraging false hope in the boy as he himself has given up the quest as so much nonsense. He doesn't want to see another generation's public embarrassment.

Decades later, the now-grown Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) has anything but given up. His major breakthrough reveals that founding fathers of America encrypted a treasure map, written in invisible ink, on the back of The Declaration of Independence! Unfortunately, one of Ben's accomplices wants to find the treasure first. Thus, it's a race against time to see who can steal the unstealable: sneak The Declaration of Independence out of the National Archives just long enough to decrypt the treasure map, find the treasure, and presumably share it with the world.

Except for alien invasions, this picture mentions or makes use of about every other conspiracy theory you've ever heard of, mixed with about every secret society you've ever heard of, mainly The Freemasons and Knights Templar. (Much is made of the founding fathers being primarily Freemasons---which is true---and the extensive use of Mason symbology used on things like our modern-day currency. In the interest of fairness, I need to point out the much-ballyhooed "all seeing eye" above the pyramid, most frequently cited as a Freemason symbol on the back of the one-dollar bill, has been contested by many skeptics groups as something more mundane, something like the big brother eye of government. My personal feeling is it's obviously a Freemason symbol. End of conspiracy discussion.)

I agree with Jon Voight's character that a lesser adventurer would've given up this mad quest as the clues uncovered are so cryptic and so buried and so repeated it's almost more guesswork and speculation than puzzle-solving. Still, it's that leg-up that makes Nicholas Cage's character the hero, isn't it? The main love interest (Diane Kruger) plays the I-had-a-good-job-with-the-government-but-I-quit-to-follow-mad-Ben and is frequently cited as one of the story's biggest plot holes: after being virtually kidnapped and with every opportunity to turn him in as the virtual terrorist he is, instead falls in love with his bad boy self, risking her own life to help him persue his mad dream.

The chief bad guy (Sean Bean), the one who deserted Cage early on, is really more greedy than evil, as towards the end of the movie they're almost...almost working cosily together. It helps keep the movie from getting too dark and dangerously close to "R" rated territory. He needs Ben more often than he's comfortable with as he realizes the clues are just too confusing without him.

Harvey Keitel is hard not to like in anything he does. Here he's the main FBI guy searching for Nicholas Cage, "Fugitive" style.

Other performances are servicable enough, such as Justin Bartha as Cage's best friend and tech-head, the one who orchestrates the rip-off of the Archives. His comic relief attempts tend to fall flat, but nothing that derails the movie. Jon Voight's character's journey from frustrated father into true believer is well-handled. But this is Nick Cage's baby all the way.

The movie's climax is satisfying, yet strangely anti-climactic at the same time---almost as if the movie got tired of running and just sort of gave up. Conclusive story-wise, but visually and plot-wise under-represented I thought.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "National Treasure"  Two and a half stars

This week's movie review of "National Treasure" is ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2004, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.