Directed by: John Turtletaub
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel
Rated: PG for some violence and action.
Parental Notes: This is a fairly idiotic film, but it is innocuous for most youngsters. There’s a little violence and some peril, but it is not at all graphic and is in the grand dumb-action-movie style.
“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is a second helping of everything 2004’s “National Treasure” offered: over-the-top conspiracy theories, historical relics and ruins, and impossibly idealistic heroes out to do What Is Right. Everyone’s back, from director John Turtletaub and writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley to Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, and the rest of the main heroic characters. Whatever you thought of the first film will almost certainly be what you think of this new one.
The story is once again about United States history and a race to complete an archaeological treasure hunt. This time, our hero Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage, “Ghost Rider”) is out to prove that an ancestor of his was innocent of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. Doing so requires that he find a lost Native American treasure by solving clues such as a secret code sent to the Confederate Army by the Queen of England and recorded on a lost page of John Wilkes Booth’s diary.
Along the way, Ben and his friends kidnap the President of the United States of America from his own birthday party. They find the titular secret book — one handed from President to President and containing such secrets as the truth about Area 51 and the moon landings. And they (once again) wind up in an underground ruin hanging precipitously over a very long drop from equipment just aged enough to provide suspense without failing altogether and ending the movie early.
One thing lacking from “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” which was present in the first film is a consistent bad guy. Ian Howe (Sean Bean, “Silent Hill”) was an over-the-top baddie consumed with greed and bent on finding an enormous treasure. This film’s antagonist is Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris, “Gone Baby Gone”), an over-the-top baddie who vacillates between a conniving schemer and a not-all-bad guy capable of self-sacrificing heroics. In one rather intense scene he flips back and forth about five times. It’s very annoying. Films like this should be populated by folks who are simple and easy to understand, not ones with any shades of grey.
Otherwise, this is a solid recreation of the inspired lunacy of the first film. If you loved that, don’t miss it. For newcomers to the franchise: this is not a flick for those who like character development, realism, or surprises other than the shock of what new improbability the filmmakers have come up with. Folks who enjoy scenery chewing, cartoonishly good heroes, cheesy dialog, and incredibly wild plots will be in popcorn movie heaven.