The original National Treasure was an Indiana Jones wannabe, set apart chiefly by the fact that it’s set in present day. So it’s only fitting that National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets hits DVD at the same time that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dominates theaters.
Somewhat like Indy, Nicolas Cage’s Treasure character, Ben Gates, is a scholar often bent on wild if not violent escapades in search of treasure that’s both informational and valuable. Like Indy, he has a sidekick (Riley, a whiz ably played by Justin Bartha), a love interest (Abigail, played by German beauty Diane Kruger) and a father (Jon Voight) who shares many of his interests but also carries emotional baggage.
Also like Indy 4, National Treasure 2 is a hodgepodge of vaguely defined plot elements clearly geared to provide as many over-the-top action-adventure sequences as possible. This includes brain-numbing car chases, which have been putting me to sleep almost since the landmark one in Bullitt.
So what’s to recommend it? Well, it’s family fare, boldly rated PG instead of PG-13. So kids can watch it with their parents and everyone’s happy (provided neither the children nor the parents expect much characterization and plot development). And much of the action is creatively if not spectacularly staged, though it often leads to so much wanton destruction that it’s painful to watch.
But most pained should be fans of such actors as Cage, Voight, Helen Mirren (as Cage’s momma), Harvey Keitel (as a Fed) and Ed Harris (as a heavy), who all deserve better material but chose to go slumming in an empty-headed adventure. Then again, everyone needs a paycheck. I’ve never slammed actors for taking work — we all must make a living. But when that work is so beneath their talents, as it is here, then the “treasure” of their craft remains largely buried. Then again, the movie made $219 million at the domestic box office, so what do I know?