Wednesday, March 26, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets Review

My wife has become really picky about going to see movies. We’ll set out to see a movie and, very often, she’ll look through the listings and we’ll wind up bowling instead. Far from the super-elite cinema snob, though, she’s just looking for well crafted escapist entertainment (a romantic comedy that’s funny but still gets too you, and action movie with a brain or a heart or something other than just explosions) but, in her opinion, it seems like this is too much to ask at this point. She really liked the first National Treasure, though, so off we went to the movies, for the first time in many months, to see the Sequel, the Harry Potter-ish-ly titled National Treasure: Book of Secrets, .

One Quick aside concerning my own feelings about the Original National Treasure: I liked it. I thought it was relatively tight both in the way the plot hung together and the historical aspects were (mostly) organically woven in . In the year or so since I saw the first one, it didn’t age well in my memory (some movies are like that… you forget you liked them somehow), but I saw it again the Friday before we saw the new one and… yeah, it held up. The history geek aspects fueled the likable character interactions and grounded the action stuff.

Tight is not a word I’d use to describe the sequel, however. The producers seemed to have taken the lesson of CSI Miami to heart - if something’s absurd, overwhelm the audience with it. The first movie was pretty ridiculous on its own merits (albeit consistent in its absurdity), but this one pushes through the envelope and blows up the whole damn mailbox. Got an important government function you want to crash? Just book all the other hotels in the city the day before so they’ll have to move it (wha?). Need to find something hidden on the SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN? Just pour some Aquafinatm everywhere (oh yeah, the product placement was pretty bad too – the MSN logo was on the screen for like 30 seconds). Need to break into Buckingham Palace? Here’s some flowers. Did I mention I’M NIC CAGE?

The historical stuff was also an issue. In the first movie, the templar treasure and foundation of the country aspects came together nicely, and formed a somewhat coherent mystery (thanks, Freemasons!). The current movie's historical aspects don’t really gel, touching on the end of the civil war, the statue of liberty(ies), the resolute desks, etc., all held together only by time period. In addition, the idea that the confederates could have reopened the Civil War after Lincoln’s assassination with a big American aboriginal treasure seems kind of a farfetched (or at least random) confluence of things on which to hinge the movie. The motivations for the “villain” (the quote marks indicate a huge lack of nerve on the movie’s part in making the villain villainous) were really thready, the fake documentation that MacGuffin's the movie is never explained, and the suggestion that a government official is in on the plot is never returned to.

The recurring shtick gets reeeealy thick in this one. Did you like this from the first movie?:

*Nic Cage “We need to _____!

*Assembled others “but mister Nic Cage, that’s impossible, there’s no way, can’t be done

*Nic Cage “What about _____!

*Assembled others “You know, if we… that just might work”

Did you like it last time? Then you’ll LOVE this movie, cause’ that happens like eight times. There is also a few “you know, you’ve just committed many obscene crimes against important historical artifacts and the leader of the free world, and I’m in a position to kill you or put you into prison forever, but I respect your overt reverence for history mister Nic Cage (even though it didn’t stop you from peeing on the Gettysburg address), so we’ll call it even” moments.

It sounds like I am saying I didn’t like the movie, doesn’t it? We’ll you know what? Just like CSI Miami, I think these things validate the existence of the movie, not undermine it. Nic Cage’s gift of having no demarcation between the person and the actor helps anchor the movie in its unreal place, a true movie place, a Hollywood place. As with David Caruso, there is never a moment with Cage so real its not fake, but (paradoxically) never one so fake that it doesn’t seem real to him - i.e., we wind up resetting our reality on him… he’s that persuasive… so the center of the movie seems to move with him (even though it’s probably the other way around). Thus, he makes the movie function despite a screenplay that needed a lot more work. As all this would suggest, the movie is also pleasantly self aware. During an argument as distraction scene, his helpers tell Cage to stop overacting, which causes him to ham it up even more.

Other stuff of note: 1) the video game-ishness of the movie was something to behold at times (I need to write about Highlander the Source soon to talk about videogame aethetics invading movies at greater length). I mean, the plots of the films are obviously influenced by adventure games (find glasses, find declaration, use glasses on declaration), but the action sequences reminded me specifically of the last Zelda game - the thing with the crank that lifts the water door - and even Donkey Kong (Cage has to time a barrel jump… no, really). 2) They did something to accentuate Helen Mirren’s breasts that distracted me. 3) The fireworks of Disney over Mount Rusmore ending (wait - the Disney fireworks were on the big CGI Disney production logo at the beginning of the movie… hmmmm, symmetry) was just the right squirt of Cheese Whiz on the fried Spam of a movie (hey, but I like fried Spam and Cheese Wiz).

When ZZ Top’s Eliminator album came out, I remember reading a Rolling Stone review the money line of which was “rock and roll doesn’t deserve to be this stupid” and thinking that that concept was so orthogonal to my point of view as to be nonsensical. This is one stupid movie, but if I let that stop me from enjoying it, I have to ask myself what the hell am I doing watching these types of movies anyway. The movie was awesome, not despite its stupidity, but by brandishing its stupidity like a knife and telling the audience “im'o cut you!” It, well Nic Cage really, physically drags you into its world were egghead crap like “plot logic” and “Chekov’s rule” doesn’t matter. The only way I’d have liked this more is if they tipped it over entirely and cast Bernie Mac as the president.


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