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Not much loot in 'Treasure'

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Rocky Mountain News

Not much loot in 'Treasure'

History, adventure both get a raw deal in middling affair

By Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News

November 19, 2004

When in the course of human events a movie needs a hook, try the Declaration of Independence. And if the movie happens to be a Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon and Pearl Harbor) affair, several truths may seem self-evident:

$ The movie probably won't be highly credible.

$ Nor will it entirely escape the feel of formula.

In National Treasure, producer Bruckheimer goes easy on the explosives, using American history to create a platform on which to build a treasure-hunting adventure that seems more suited to July than November. Nicolas Cage, who worked with Bruckheimer in The Rock, Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds, moves halfway back to his action-star days in this none-too-credible story of treasure hunters trying to decipher an invisible map that's supposedly inscribed on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

History isn't exactly given theme-park treatment by director Jon Turtletaub; it's used to add a bit of authenticity as we're told the story of Cage's Gates family.

Deprived of Bruckheimer's explosive fury, National Treasure proves a middling affair that tries to create an intricate mystery on the order of The Da Vinci Code. This one could have been called The Declaration Code, and it pits two sets of thieves against each other.

Here's the rub: Before they can attempt to figure out the map on the back of the declaration, they must steal it.

Cage's Ben Gates wants to steal the document to keep it from falling into the hands of a crook (Sean Bean) who has no interest in American tradition, only money. Bean's character aims to recover a treasure that was concealed at the time of the revolution to keep it from falling into the hands of the British.

The treasure supposedly includes many wonders of the ancient world, but not everyone thinks it exists. Gates' dad (an unusually tame Jon Voight) believes an endless series of clues that has long fascinated his brainy son lead nowhere.

Perhaps to add a little spice, Diane Kruger (last seen as Helen in Troy) arrives to play an archivist caught up in a mad chase that begins when Ben - with assistance from his funny sidekick (Justin Bartha) - steals the declaration.

The movie then turns into an extended chase sequence. Who will figure out the clues and reach the treasure first? And how about a little frenzied racing through the streets of Philadelphia, where the characters pay a visit to the Liberty Bell.

The movie, which goes on far too long, seems stranded in a limbo between fantasy and realism as it spouts its measure of mumbo jumbo, stuff about the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. When Cage and company reach the hiding place of the treasure, they discover a structure so elaborate it defies belief, like something borrowed from a Raiders of the Lost Ark outtake.

No one here could have been overly concerned about credibility, and the appearance of a beleaguered-looking Harvey Keitel as an FBI agent doesn't help.

Cage must hold the movie together, but Treasure hardly represents his best work. He's not particularly magnetic or funny. There's too little verve in his performance as a thinking man's treasure hunter and master reader of clues.

Oh well, everyone involved should receive nods of approval from their high school history teachers. But National Treasure falls a bit short both as a window into the American past and as crackling good adventure.

Further Reading:

In Focus (Bro. Tom Hanks, etc.)