National Treasure (review)

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Bury It Deep

At last, we have the answer to the question that has haunted humankind for the last twenty years: What would Raiders of the Lost Ark look like if Jerry Bruckheimer had gotten his grubby paws on it? And in retrospect, it seems we always really knew the answer, deep in our hearts: It comes as no surprise that the precisely calculated National Treasure is overflowing with endless chase sequences and stuff blowing up and acres of nonsense that no one even bothers to disguise, with a few Indiana Jones torches left lying around for the characters to pick up and use to cast a fiery golden light on the plot holes and the characters that are little more than loose concoctions of Hollywood clichés and the desperate reek of money-grubbing emanating from the screen.
C’mon: You may have hoped there’d be something cool here, or even just something redeemable, but you knew it would be moments of sheer idiocy — invisible treasure maps on the back of the Declaration of Independence indeed — interrupted by tediously drawn-out action padding, pausing only for some unconvincing pre-romantic I-hate-you-now-but-I’m-gonna-love-you-later banter from stars Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger. Yawn.

Ya know, it’s not that implausibility ever killed a film on its own — the Indiana Jones movies are built out of the same semi-mythical, pseudo-conspiracy-theory stuff that Treasure is — but no one involved here, behind the scenes or on the screen, gives a good goddamn about even pretending to fake a genuine interest in what they’re doing. Indy isn’t a made-up character: he’s real because Harrison Ford hypnotized himself into knowing he was, and Steven Spielberg had every faith that he was merely relating a true historical tale — that kind of just-a-little-crazy self-delusion that inventors of fiction have to have to make us believe just isn’t here. This is spreadsheet filmmaking, soulless and overly designed for maximum box-office effect: it doesn’t need to be authentic if everything is done according to an equation. Box Office + Home Video Take = 2(Movie Budget plus Marketing Costs) IF No. of Explosions = X, Moments of Peril = Y, and Instances of Pandering to the Audience = Z.

Look at what the “creative” types behind this numbing mass of inanimate boredom have done before: director Jon Turteltaub gave us Disney’s The Kid and Instinct; the screenwriting team of Cormac and Marianne Wibberley perpertrated Bad Boys II and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle; screenwriter Jim Kouf is behind Taxi and Snow Dogs. These aren’t people who make movies — they make Processed Movie Product, and they don’t care whether you believe or enjoy or are entertained, as long as they’ve got your money. (And really, who asks for their money back when a movie sucks? No one. Maybe we should start doing that.) As long as a decent enough trailer can be cut to lure people into the movie and they can open it wide enough so that it doesn’t matter if it drops 60 percent in the second weekend on bad word of mouth, they don’t care what you think.

And Treasure‘s trailer is misleading: it’s far more exciting than the actual film, which is about as involving as watching someone else play a video game — you don’t even get the satisfaction of maneuvering the Indiana Jones torches into the dark corners with the gamepad. I should be writing a hint book rather than a review (In the wooden ship, don’t forget to take the meerschaum pipe — you’ll need it later. Be sure to try all the possible variations on the lenses of the special glasses.) If we cared even a little bit about treasure hunter Ben “It Belongs in a Museum” Gates (Cage: Adaptation, Sonny) or his father, Patrick “I’m Not Henry Jones Sr.” Gates (Jon Voight: SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2, The Manchurian Candidate), or Abigail “National Archives babe” Chase (Kruger: Wicker Park, Troy), it might not seem as if the film is nothing more than an endless series of “clues” leading to an ancient treasure whose very existence makes no sense at all, with the path through the mess either extremely obvious — Is there anyone alive or even half dead who doesn’t know the nanosecond the barrels of gunpowder are found on the old wooden ship that they will be used to fuel a spectacular explosion? — or extremely obvious — Is there anyone who doesn’t instantly know why they’re not too late to unlock the riddle of the Independence Hall clocktower?

If there’s one unexpected accomplishment of National Treasure, it’s that it makes The Da Vinci Code look cerebral. I didn’t think that was possible at all.

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