Movie Review for National Treasure: Book of Secrets

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Review #585 of 365
Movie Review of National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) [PG] 124 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $11.75
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 20 December 2007
Time: 11:59 pm
DVD Release Date: 20 May 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from Trevor Rabin - National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure)
Screenplay by: Cormac Wibberley (The Shaggy Dog) • Marianne Wibberley (The Shaggy Dog) with story by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Nicolas Cage (Next) • Justin Bartha (Failure to Launch) • Diane Kruger (The Hunting Party) • Jon Voight (Bratz: The Movie) • Helen Mirren (The Queen) • Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone) • Harvey Keitel (Arthur and the Invisibles) • Bruce Greenwood (I'm Not There) • Ty Burrell (Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus) • Michael Maize (Final Approach) • Timothy V. Murphy (The Butcher) • Alicia Coppola ("Jericho") • Albert Hall ("Grey's Anatomy") • Joel Gretsch ("The 4400")

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Click to see photos from the Premiere of National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Click to read the spoiler points for National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The good news about National Treasure: Book of Secrets is that it's somewhat humorous, somewhat lively, and possesses most of the basic elements that made the first National Treasure a surprise hit. The bad news is that the trailer editors, if you have seen their work, gave away too many of the most magical elements of the film (so if you don't like spoilers don't watch it); there's not quite as much ingenuity to the treasure-hunting and clue finding as it seemed like there was in the original; maybe there's a good reason Nicholas Cage has never done a sequel before; and the film, at least when it was presented at the mid-night preview, was preceded by a dreadful "Goofy" cartoon about his dysfunctional installation of a home theatre system that set neither the proper tone nor mood for the film that followed. In other words, despite the Midas touch of Jerry Bruckheimer and the addition of Academy Award®-winning Helen Mirren to the cast, this installment (no 'for sure' word on a third film just a vague teaser pre-credits) adds fodder to the "don't make sequels" rather than the "see Superman II was even better than the original" lists.

So, what was with the "Goofy" cartoon? Old school animation collides with new world problem that ends up looking more like a commercial for NBC's Chuck and his "Nerd Herd" than a tribute to either the use of Disney® Cartoons before their films or to the old-school animation styles that used to be the Disney® signature. So, the first piece of advice on how to enjoy National Treasure: Book of Secrets (not to be called National Treasure 2), is not to worry about being a few minutes tardy.

As those of us who've been blasted with the trailer for the film have known for some time, the story for the sequel begins with an accusation that treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) actually is the descendant of the man who served as the chief architect for the assassination of arguably the best U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. The accuser, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), has in his possession a page of John Wilkes Booth's diary in which the name, Thomas Gates (played in flashback by Joel Gretsch) appears in a list amongst others convicted of the assassination of the President with the word 'artifact' next to his name. What Wilkinson has represents just a partial page as the rest supposedly was burned in a Pub fireplace by Thomas Gates upon realizing it to be clues to a map of hidden treasure that the Confederates were planning to use to fund their war efforts.

… less 'magical'… National Treasure: Book of Secrets definitely could be saved for the DVD wish list…
Newly estranged from his girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and, therefore, living with his father Patrick (Jon Voight), Ben must put together his crack team including his trusty 'sidekick' Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) to clear his great grandfather's good name. In the process, he will have to travel across the Atlantic creating major international incidents and return home to commit several felonies and, at least, one act of treason. He will also have to try to win back his girl and repair the long frosty relationship between his mother, Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), a professor of ancient indigenous languages and his father. Meanwhile, poor Riley will do anything, literally, to get his Ferrari® back after the government confiscated it for back taxes, get credit for his participation in the treasure hunts, and / or get noticed by a girl for being just himself and not Ben Gates's assistant.

As well as being less 'magical' in the puzzles and treasure hunting, this film suffers from inexplicable plot elements that are never resolved effectively. In a film that depends on details, this comes across as a bit sloppy. Director Jon Turtletaub has done far better in previous films. The writing Wibberley's also seem to have gotten somewhat confused as they tried to weave together this fanciful historical 'what-if' conspiracy theorist's dream come true. Don't fault the actors too much then for seeming to be spending a lot of time running around not sure what they are doing—which, unfortunately, they do. The idea is, though, we're to trust that, at least, Ben Gates, has it all figured out, so not to worry. Which places, again, the effectiveness of this film squarely on Nicholas Cage whose unfortunate hairdo was almost as off-the-mark in the category of distractions as was Tom Hanks's in The Da Vinci Code. One of the reasons it may be that Nicholas Cage has never done a sequel is that he puts so much into attempting to create his characters and differentiate each from his previous ones, that a sequel with him just wouldn't work. He'd probably be considered more successful with Ben Gates than he might like to be, minus the haircut, were it not for the fact that this character is a maelstrom of conflicting impulses that should be coalescing into a solid hero figure given the time for character-development that sequels afford. Here's a guy who actually breaks numerous laws all over the world while simultaneously spouting notions of his aims at greater and higher contributions to history and morals that seemingly supercede the regulations put in place to prevent him from simply walking right up to and taking the treasure. If this wouldn't make for a very conflicted person, what would? How does one justify sneaking one's way into the Queen of England's study and stealing an ancient artifact from her desk? His greater good! This was the film to peel away some of the layers of his character to help gain better insight into how his moral compass works. Instead, much more time is spent on his failed but rekindling relationship with Abigail, though there's little that points in the direction of what she sees in him other than a source of constant danger and excitement. While, arguably, this kind of thing isn't supposed to matter in movies like these some will say; and, yet, it would be exactly these kinds of things that would elevate the National Treasure concept—not yet a franchise as you need at least three films for that status—to a level worthy of more box-office return and a place in the collective consciousness of an international fan base. Recall toward this point what happened in Spiderman 2 and the aforementioned Superman II. Note that each gave a greater depth of understanding to the conflicted heroes. Instead, National Treasure: Book of Secrets spends too much time trying to replicate the original film, and this is nearly always the recipe for a bland, mostly forgettable sequel whose second biggest chase scene occurs in the Library of Congress. Given the competition this time of year, this probably was not the best time to release this film as movie fans will have to be more discriminating given the huge number of openings during the next five days. National Treasure: Book of Secrets definitely could be saved for the DVD wish list at this time.

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Cast Members
Nicolas CageJustin BarthaDiane Kruger
Jon VoightHelen MirrenEd Harris
Harvey KeitelBruce GreenwoodTy Burrell
Michael MaizeJoel GretschAlicia Coppola
Jon Turteltaub
Cormac WibberleyMarianne Wibberley

Review-lite National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) [max of 150 words]
Jon Turteltaub's National Treasure: Book of Secrets begins with an accusation that treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) actually is the descendant of the man who planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln forcing him to reassemble his team of treasure hunters: Abigail Chase (Dian Kruger), Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), and his dad (Jon Voight) for a trans-Atlantic hunt for clues to prove his great grandfather's innocence. Unfortunately, as well as being less 'magical' than the original, this film suffers from some inexplicable elements in the plot that are never resolved and too much time spent trying to replicate the original film--nearly always the recipe for a bland, mostly forgettable sequel. Despite Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's Midas touch and the addition of Helen Mirren to the cast as Ben's mother, National Treasure: Book of Secrets could definitely be saved for the DVD or Download wish list at this time.

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