It used to be, audiences didn't care if an action movie was brainless, as long as it delivered the goods. Provide ample stuntwork, some mind-blowing special effects, and a linear narrative pitting good (or gallant) vs. evil (or Eastern European) and you have a semi-guarantee of success. But nowadays, thanks to the intellectualized approach taken by Bond and Bourne, audiences demand a little heft with their heroics. Sadly, there's not much cinematic substance to the growing National Treasure franchise. This Book of Secrets sequel to the surprise hit should be subtitled Thrillers for Dummies. It's nothing more than a series of ADD driven vignettes held together by the flimsiest of plots, helmed by the dude who made 3 Ninjas. 'Nuff said.
Since their last adventure, things have changed rather significantly for Team Ben Gates (a null set Nicolas Cage
). Our hero is continuing his treasure-hunting ways, but he's broken up with gal pal Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger
). Papa Gates (a lost Jon Voight
) has been helping sonny boy over his rough relationship patch, while tech wiz sidekick Riley Poole (a far too-wisecracking Justin Bartha
) has published a book and is deep in debt to the IRS. When a mysterious figure named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris
) shows up, carrying a page out of John Wilkes Booth's diary implicating Gates' forefather in the assassination of Lincoln, the ancestors vow to clear his name. Turns out the long dead relative could have been trying to hide the location of the lost City of Gold -- Cibola -- from conspiring Confederate rebels. Itís up to Gates to find the truth, and the vast wealth at the end of said quest. Article continues below
It's stunning how the efforts of three Oscar winners, another pair of nominees (including a wandering Harvey Keitel
) and a group of well-meaning technicians can turn out something as subpar as this by-the-numbers nonentity. Call it treading the waters of talent for a paycheck, or not knowing when you've overstayed your genre welcome, but Cage and his cohorts appear really desperate here. Everything is pitched over into Cannonball Run territory, dialogue dancing around inanely as famous faces endlessly shtick for the camera. Casting is crucial to getting a movie like this to work, but Book of Secrets substitutes accomplishments for action chops, and that's never a good thing.
Though he's managed in the past, our Leaving Las Vegas lead can't carry this piffle. You can literally see his hairline recede while delivering yet another speech as hackneyed history lesson. And having Helen Mirren
show up as Mama Gates, the Native American languages expert, reeks of Hollywood's "Just Won Best Actress" rebate. Director Jon Turteltaub
falls into the filmmaker's trap of treating everything old as twice as big and brand new again, while proving he's the least adept creator of car chases ever. The movie drags in spots, unable to build up a decent level of energy. Instead, we leap, video-game style, from one suspense-free conundrum to the next, knowing full well these high-tech archeologists will never be at a loss for a skin of their perfect teeth answer.
The results play like the outline for a dour Discovery Channel special, the kind that grinds along smugly excusing its lack of spark as part of the "joy of learning." Unfortunately, the only thing gleaned from this two-hour trek into extended exposition is that part three is right around the corner. Maybe this year's red carpet recipients can book their passage before the series' ship sails again. It's assured they'll be the only one's benefiting.