"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" has the same director as 2004's "National Treasure
" (Jon Turteltaub), the same writers (Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley), and nearly all of the same lead actors (Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel). This is no surprise, since it is basically the same movie. One imagines while watching the goofy goings-on that the original's screenplay was carried over for the sequel, the only true changes being different locations and a different ultimate treasure to be hunted. The plot is nonsense, the dialogue is derivative, and yet the pace is snappy enough that it's a mildly diverting experience for the undiscriminating viewer. Everyone else can feel free to take a permanent rain check.
When a long-lost remnant from 1865 turns up in the hands of one Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), potentially incriminating Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch) as being one of the men behind John Wilkes Booth's assassination of Abraham Lincoln, descendant Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is convinced it cannot be true. Determined to clear his ancestor's good name, he reteams with tech-savvy best friend Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), archivist ex-girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and father Patrick (Jon Voight) to hunt down the clues hidden across the globe in the hopes that it will point him to the whereabouts of a secret treasure, located in the "City of Gold," that will prove Thomas' innocence. With Mitch hot on their heels, dead-set on claiming the treasure for himself, Ben and companythis time also including his mother, University of Maryland professor Emily Gates (Helen Mirren)must work fast to stay one step ahead of him. Their hunt eventually leads them to the U.S. President's legendary, eye-opening "Book of Secrets."
"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" is a deceptive title, since the hush-hush book in question really only serves as a plot device and is never explored to its full capacities. There is mention that it holds the answers to everything from the Watergate scandal to Area 51a notion that would have made for a much more imaginative plot to be built around. Instead, director Jon Turteltaub is content to lazily repeat himself. Seeing the film is like sitting through a near carbon-copy of its predecessor
, only daffier. The far-fetched lengths that the movie takes its characters are laughable. They go to Buckingham Palace and sneak away to find a desk hiding a piece of wood ingrained with crucial symbols. They finagle their way into the Oval Office at the White House, sight unseen and in the midst of the Easter egg-rolling festivities no less. Ben meets the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) one minute, and the next they are cavorting around in an underground tunnel together like old explorer buddies. By the time the characters arrive at the top of Mt. Rushmore and begin literally pouring bottled water on the rocks in hopes of finding the next clue, the audience can only nod their head in agreement when Emily remarks, "This is ridiculous."
Granted, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" isn't meant to be taken seriously. In its own way, it amiably passes the time, what with the picturesque globe-trotting throughout from Paris to London to Washington, D.C. to South Dakota. Waiting to see what the next ludicrous story development is has its merits, even if the reaction can only be one of unintentional laughter and sheer disbelief. Also of note is an extended climactic set-piece that delivers the requisite thrills and daring escapes expected, as well as a really wonderful supporting performance from Helen Mirren (2006's "The Queen
"), warm and spunky and seemingly with a world of wisdom-enhancing experiences that she brings to what could have been a one-note role.
In fact, it is the sparkling, intermittently acid-tongued relationship between Mirren's Emily and John Voight's (2007's "Bratz: The Movie
") ex-husband Patrick that overshadows the by-the-numbers performances from central players Nicolas Cage (2007's "Next
"), Justin Bartha (2006's "Failure to Launch
") and Diane Kruger (2004's "Wicker Park
"). They are relative bores to the liveliness of Mirren and Voight, who deserve their own film as old lovers rekindling a flame while going on a high-stakes adventure. Instead, they are forced into second-fiddle position as "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" goes down an obvious, uninspired path of prefabricated inconsequentiality.