Dir: Jon Turteltaub. US.2004. 131mins
Walt Disney Picturesexperiments with a PG-13-rated adventure movie for all the family in NationalTreasure delivered by the studio's in-house stalwarts producer JerryBruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub. The result is an efficientlycrowd-pleasing, wholesome popcorn picture short on violence and long onmystery, although it is also short on the personality and humour which made theIndiana Jones series such a perennial delight for audiences.
US numbers will be big forthe film which revolves around American history and the lore of the time ofindependence in 1776. International audiences might find it less interesting,especially in a world where American notions of freedom are under attack.Nevertheless the studio which faltered with big-budget no-nos like Hidalgoand The Alamo earlier this year can expect some healthy worldwidereturns from National Treasure.
There's a youthful vigourand earnest desire to entertain in the film which distinguish it from otherby-the-numbers Bruckheimer action pics. Turteltaub and his writers (among themDisney's marketing chief Oren Aviv) create a clever fiction in the notion thatthe legendary Knights Templar treasure was hidden somewhere in America by theFounding Fathers. Much like Indiana Jones does, the hero Benjamin FranklinGates (played by Nicolas Cage) has to solve riddles and unearth hidden relicsto find his prize.
Gates belongs to a family,which for six generations has sought out the treasure which might or might notexist. The family has been lambasted for its efforts by the academic community,and indeed Gates' dogged pursuit has led to a rift with his father (Voight).After a prologue in which the child Ben learns of the treasure from hisgrandfather (Plummer), the film heads straight to the Antarctic where Ben andhis millionaire backer Ian Howe (Bean) discover the wreck of the Charlotte, anold ship where the treasure could lie.
All they find is anelaborately sculpted pipe and a riddle which suggests that the map to thetreasure was printed in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration OfIndependence. However, Howe double crosses Ben and his techno-boffin assistantRiley Poole (Bartha) and leaves them for dead taking the clue and the pipe.
Of course the two escape andhead straight for Washington DC to get to the Declaration before Howe and hisheavies. There they try to convince Dr Abigail Chase (Kruger), a conservator atthe National Archives that the Declaration is in danger, but when theirwarnings are met with scorn, they set out to steal the Declaration themselvesbefore Howe does.
Their daring robbery issuccessful but leaves them on the run with Chase in tow and both the FBI (underchief Harvey Keitel) and Howe on their tail. They follow a trail of clues whichtakes them to Gates' father's house, to Independence Hall and The Liberty Bellin Philadelphia and then back to New York City where they find a chamberunderneath Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan.
The story moves at a briskpace, the setpieces are excitingly staged and, this being a Bruckheimerpicture, the production values are top notch. Cage is an appealing historianhero - he doesn't get into a fist fight once in the film - and he is given ablesupport by sterling character actors like Voight, Bean and Keitel. There is nodoubt that National Treasure is entertaining, but like its unexcitingleading lady Diane Kruger, who is all good looks and little magnetism, the filmengages on a superficial level without ever catching fire.
Then again, while adults maylong for a bit more character development and sexual chemistry between theleads, their kids will fall under the spell of the adventure. And first andforemost Disney wants the kids.
Prod cos: Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Walt Disney Pictures
Worldwide dist: Buena Vista/BVI
Exec prods: Mike Stenson, ChadOman, Christina Steinberg, Barry Waldman, Oren Aviv & Charles Segars
Prod: Jerry Bruckheimer, JonTurteltaub
Scr: Jim Kouf and CormacWibberley & Marianne Wibberley from a story by Kouf and Oren Aviv &Charles Segars
Cine: Caleb Deschanel
Prod des: Norris Spencer
Ed: William Goldenberg
Mus: Trevor Rabin
Main cast: Nicolas Cage, JonVoight, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, ChristopherPlummer