National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Nothing Too Startling (or Exciting)

Benjamin Franklin Gates has a problem: his great-grandfather, Thomas Gates, has been publicly accused of conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Dad Gates has his knickers in a knot over the dastardly doings of Mitch Wilkinson, who wishes to glorify his own family’s name at the expense of the reputation of the Gates clan. Soon Ben is off searching for clues leaving anything to do with John Wilkes Booth in the dust as he pursues a secret book—harbored throughout history by every United States president—that tells of a City of Gold (Cibola) left behind by a pre-Columbian civilization. The Confederacy, aided by England’s Queen Victoria, was attempting to find this gold in order to finance a defeat of the North in the Civil War.

Aiding in the quest along with good ol’ Dad are Gate’s ex-girlfriend and her technical wizard sidekick (Diane Krueger and Justin Bartha reprising their roles in National Treasure). Helen Mirren adds a new element as Ben’s mother who just happens to be an expert interpreter of pre-Columbian languages.

Nicloas Cage as Ben Gates in Book of SecretsIf the plot sounds formulaic, it absolutely is. However, running with a winning formula doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The first movie in this series turned out to be surprisingly well done, fun to watch, and a welcome addition to fill the void left after the Indiana Jones films ended. Unfortunately, National Treasure: Book of Secrets just can’t seem to get out of its own way and feels like something that would have played well on Sunday evening television. There is no excitement or suspense and there is a feeling of being locked into a continuous loop Disney ride that is designed to make you never want to get back into that line again.

The cast of National Treasure: Book of Secrets is pure gold. In addition to the usuals and Mirren, add Harvey Keitel and Bruce Greenwood. While it is obvious that these folks enjoy working together, the entire ensemble acts as if they are contained in bubbles. They seem to be talking at rather than to each other and that is a real head-scratcher given their combined decades of proven talent.

There is humor throughout the film and some of the gibes are pretty hilarious. However, where most adventure movies use humor to release tension, National Treasure: Book of Secrets has no real tension to release, so most of the humorous repartee draws a token snort rather than a guffaw. There is one exception and that is an episode in Buckingham Palace early in the movie when Nicholas Cage’s character acts like the stereotypical buffoon of an American tourist in order to create a diversion. Actually, I’d enjoy having that on a loop to watch over and over.

I think what really hurts Book of Secrets is that it sacrifices credibility to maintain a PG rating. The chase scene through the streets of London is patently ridiculous and the threat from the “bad” guys is unbelievable. When guns are drawn it is obvious that only windshields will suffer and although the characters at times are hit over the head, punched, trapped in caves, scrambling over rocks, and tossed around in cars while not wearing seatbelts, no one gets a scratch, contusion, or black eye. There is absolutely no sign of blood at any time even when Ben’s great-grandfather is gut-shot for refusing to solve the code that will tell where the Lost City of Gold lies. A PG-13 would have at least insured an audience of teens and adventure tale junkies.

My greatest hope was to be able to defend this movie—I am a great fan of Nicolas Cage and Jon Voight, but as an entrant in the conspiracy theory genre, again, Book of Secrets gets a miserable grade. Where Da Vinci Code raised hackles and incited near riot in the religious community, Book of Secrets just does not inspire trust in the validity of the existence of this mysterious book. I love a good piece of speculation, but all the gold of Cibola buried inside Mt. Rushmore? Give me a break! Gutzon Borglum (creator of the monument) would die all over again if he knew his name was mentioned as the keeper of this secret and the creator of its tomb.

Perhaps National Treasure: Book of Secrets is meant to be a spoof of conspiracy theory movies. This would at least explain why the movie lacks a sense of purpose and the cast appears to be sleepwalking through the entire film while supposedly trying to save their own and each other’s lives. If the sequel to National Treasure is not to be taken tongue-in-cheek, however, perhaps producer Jerry Bruckheimer just finally has so much money that he can allow himself the pleasure of occasionally wasting some of it. Or… he’s saving the best he has for the third movie. Judging from the end of movie two, there will be a third… But will there be an audience?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is rated PG for “some violence and action.” This movie is so benign that it could be given a G-rating. One person dies on camera but without blood—and nobody swears, gets naked, or even shows their underwear. Great movie for those with weak hearts because there are also no “boo!” situations that might dangerously elevate stress hormones.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy attended a promotional screening of National Treasure: Book of Secrets.