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National Treasure: Book of Secrets

dir: Jon Turteltaub
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National Treasure: Book of Secrets is, like the film it is the sequel to, and like everything by this purest of Disney directors, hackwork of the highest order.

Hackwork works, for lack of a better term. Hackwork is what gets bums in seats, sells tickets and gets people to buy merchandise. By which I mean regular members of the public, and not the Asperger’s sufferers who will collect merchandise on the most obscure shit. Oh, look, a 12-inch Angela Lansbury doll wearing that tweed outfit from the third season of Murder, She Wrote! I’ve got to get me some of that.

Hackwork is when you make a dumbed down version (try not to choke on the irony) of the Da Vinci Code for audiences who found that tedious bore too involved and complicated. With too many big words and references to an actual earth history unknown to them all the same, to the point where its fictionalisation could sit just as well as a form of documentary for their tastes.

Hackwork is where Nicolas Cage, who was inexplicably thought to be a decent actor long ago, collects multi-million dollar pay cheques in order to wear increasingly unbelievable wigs and to play increasingly unbelievable and unwatchable characters. He overacts more here, or at the very least acts worse here in many scenes than he did in that truly tragic Wicker Man remake.

There’s no controlling Cage now. No director can seem to get him to rein in his ego long enough to play characters, as opposed to playing the same character in every crap flick he pumps out now. He’s had a long recent string of dire showings that point to a guy who’s simply going through the motions for a paycheck, and clearly coasting on past (dubious) glories.

Of course, for every bunch of crap flicks he ‘performs’ in (let’s see, he’s been on quite a roll with Wicker Man, Next, Ghost Rider and this painfully synthetic apple pie franchise), he then appears in something like Adaptation or The Weather Man, and delivers decent performances, lulling people into believing he still cares.

He doesn’t care, and neither does this flick. Like its predecessor, it is a fun (for drunks, children and the ignorant), somewhat silly way to spend two long hours in the pursuit of sub-Indiana Jones adventure with none of the violence and lashings of grade school level American History. The first flick found excuses to travel to lots of locations of historic importance that busloads of children are forced to attend each year: Smithsonian, Liberty Bell, the toilet Elvis died on. In the pursuit of treasure. Treasure!

The second does exactly the same thing, except the travelogue goes international as well. Paris, Buckingham Palace, the White House, the heads at Mount Rushmore, and the boat where Tommy Lee videotaped himself porking his then wife Pamela Anderson Lee.

Well, maybe not that last one, shrine though it is to American ingenuity. A third film promises to up the ante by sending Cage into outer space in order to follow a trail of clues on the moon placed there by Mark Twain, Lola Montez and King Arthur whilst being pursued by the murderous descendants of J. Edgar Hoover.

In this one at least, so that we can talk about some form of reality, a villainous Southerner (Ed Harris) for whom the Civil War never properly ended, forces our hero Benjamin Gates (Cage) to follow a trail of clues involving Presidents, Queen Victoria and the diary of assassin of tyrants John Wilkes Booth in order to find a city of pure gold.

He is joined by a nerdy assistant (Justin Bartha) who not only is given the lamest, most G-rated quips since Full House and Seventh Heaven were cancelled, but who can seemingly hack into and through any IT security within microseconds. The only reason we have for why he can do this is that he can do this because the script says he does.

And why not, why not indeed… Also along for the ride is Ben’s girlfriend (Diana Kruger) whose purpose is to be there so we don’t think Ben is fucking his male assistant. And Jon Voight and Helen Mirren, finally getting some serious bank, as they say, for getting that Oscar, get to dodder around as well.

I understood what was going on as they described it whilst doing it, but for the life of me, I kept asking myself ‘why the hell are they doing this insane shit again?’ knowing full well what the script’s rationale was.

I mean, sure, there are other reasons in other films why a person would want to kidnap a president, but, by God this flick finds the flimsiest reason imaginable.

I also remember saying to the person I was watching this with that for all the stupid reasons given for why the President of the United States would follow another man he doesn’t know into a dark place underground, the only one that makes sense is the reason that results in lashings of hot gay sex. Suffice to say that the reasons given here are nowhere near as convincing or as believable.

Based on this flick’s success, I’m going to write a script where someone has to kidnap the Prime Minister of Canada and the Queen of Tahiti, because he’s the only one that can open this particular jar of peanut butter, and only she can whip up a particular sandwich just right.

Cage mostly mugs throughout the flick, going from serious-serious to playful and carefree in a manner so whiplashy that my neck still hurts and I’m thinking about suing. Preposterous doesn’t even begin to describe how silly the plot is, but it also barely scratches the surface of what Cage perpetrates acting-wise in this flick.

Thankfully (I guess), there’s lots of senseless action throughout the flick so that we don’t have to look and listen to Cage constantly, though you do start to wonder why he’s wearing sunglasses when no-one else is, and whether he’s been abusing botox injections the way Schwarzenegger abused steroids and English pronunciation.

A car chase through the streets of central London is probably the most unbelievable sequence in the flick, and that’s even in comparison to underground cities of gold and 500-year-old machines that still work, but I didn’t mind, because it meant cars were focussed on, not Cage's strange head and stranger hair-line.

Ed Harris as the villain makes absolutely no sense as the villain, in that almost none of his actions make sense in the slightest, considering his overall objective. But, as I said, time focussed on him meant we weren’t looking at Nicolas Cage.

Diane Kruger is attractive, I guess, but has no purpose in the flick apart from nagging and distracting one character with her cockteasing so that someone can steal something from the Oval Office. No, that’s not a metaphor for her vagina.

It’s not really something you’d be proud to hang on your resume.

I can’t really say I hated the flick, because, despite its abject preposterousness, I have some vestige of childlike wonder when it comes to adventure stories like this. I admire the chutzpah, the gall required to try to put a flick like this together and be taken seriously. I found it infinitely more enjoyable than
The Da Vinci Code
, but that’s only because it was an hour shorter and the Da Vinci Code was pure sewerage.

It’s probably a step down from the first flick, but that’s not saying much. These are both pure, mild products of the Hollywood – Disney system, focus grouped and cookie-cut to the required mediocre design, in order to provide the maximum amount of American arses into cinema seats, covered as they are in sticky drink remnants and butter-substitute laden popcorn.

With movies like this, when they go over 90 minutes, how idiotically they end, or how empty the resolution might be is secondary compared to the real important fact: that it has ended, finally. Thankyou gods, it is over.

I’m sure the sequel hinted at in a conversation betwixt the President and Our loathsome Hero Ben will clear up any confusion on my part. And any lingering doubts I have about Nicolas Cage’s, Jon Turteltaub’s and Jerry Bruckheimer’s dedication to making quality cinema for the ages.

5 times I wonder whether too many more flicks like this will finally sap my remaining will to live I possess out of 10

“This doesn't make any sense.”
- “As if these clues ever do.” – National Treasure: Book of Secrets.