National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) / Adventure-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 124 min.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Greenwood, Ty Burrell
Director: John Turteltaub
Screenplay: The Wibberleys
"More of the same" perhaps was the prevailing mantra during every phase of the conception for this sequel to the 2004 hit National Treasure, as it basically covers every base touched by the first film without offering much new to the process. Considering it has the secondary title of Book of Secrets, the book used by the Wibberleys (The Shaggy Dog, Bad Boys II) in their approach to screenplay writing must have been one that had nothing but tried-and-true formula, and they did everything "by the book". Fans of the first film will probably not be too off put, as the original itself played like a mish-mash of borrowed ideas, from everything including Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" to Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This film borrows from those sources as well, but only incidentally, as the Wibberleys are much more concerned with making as much of a clone of the first entry as possible.
The story picks up a couple of years after the first one, where Ben Gates (Cage, Next) is continuing to search for hidden treasures, which is just the thing to cause a break up with his girlfriend, Abigail (Kruger, Joyeux Noel). His father (Voight, Transformers) has stuck by his side, as we find out that he also put his relationship as secondary to the thrill of the hunt, when we meet his estranged wife Emily (Mirren, The Queen) later in the film, the requisite new tagalong to the motley bunch. Entering all of their lives is a stranger named Mitch Wilkerson (Harris, Gone Baby Gone), who possesses a partial page from John Wilkes Booth's diary that alleges to expose a Gates ancestor as a co-conspirator in President Lincoln's assassination. This doesn't sit well with the Gates' boys, as they vow to do everything in their power to clear the family name, and in so doing, they must hop the globe to beg, borrow and steal everywhere from sitting US President (Greenwood, Firehouse Dog) to ultimately have the chance to uncover a mysterious long-lost city of gold called Cibola.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the epitome of Taco Bell -- low overhead, easily consumable goods that is just bland enough to be inoffensive to the entire family to digest. Lots of money has been lavished on making this even more of an eye-candy treat than the first time out, but at the same time, bigger isn't better when it's just more of the same. The problem with the first film was its inherent derivativeness, and nothing in this second effort ever tries to address this flaw. In fact, rather than take the ball and run into a new direction, Jon Turteltaub (The Kid, Instinct) merely plows headfirst into the same walls of redundancy he continuously does, thinking that the goods are delivered if they are comfortably familiar.
You know what you're getting into here, so I will try not to belabor my points, except to say that execution of the film seems to be half convenience and contrivance in shuffling through a barrage of geographical locations of historic significance, and the other half forced jocular repartee among the core characters meant to offer moments of comic relief. Though it mildly amuses from time to time, the final 40 minutes offer little to smile about, as we essentially see the underground climax offered from the first film, only done with lots of water and more special-effects-laden heroics. Within the confines of a video game edutainment like "Carmen Sandiego" such contrivances could be easily overlooked as puzzles for users to solve and to learn a bit about the world and what's in it. This film doesn't even teach much about history, as it is about 98% hogwash, and never stays in one spot long enough for us to take in much in terms of the sights and sounds to even qualify as a decent travelogue piece.
I've often criticized films for being nothing but one distraction after another until the credits roll, and this film has just shot to the top of my "primary examples" list for future comparison. It is a series of plot developments in search of an inevitably drawn-out climax. The ending of the film threatens to bore us yet again with the possibility of a sequel, as the President asks Ben to look into what's on Page 47 of the so-called book only US Presidents are allowed to see, without revealing anything about it except that it is of great significance. The Wibberleys will have a couple of years to make up just what that page says, but for all practical purposes, it probably only has three words written on it: "Rinse and repeat".
-- Follows National Treasure.
©2008 Vince Leo