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nt2poster.jpgNational Treasure (the First) should have been laughable–a blatant ripoff of various adventure flicks at TV shows that came before it. The first effort introduced us to Indy wannabe Ben Gates, a know-it-all adventurer with a long history of searching for treasure and truth. We also met his second banana, Riley, the goofy computer expert/comic relief whom I instantly found “adorkable.” And because this is a big-time movie, you gotta have a love interest, enter Helen of TroyDiane Kruger. But there was something about it that kept me interested.
So when National Treasure 2 popped up, I ran to Loews, expecting a popcorn movie that would lightly entertain, if not necessarily enlighten. But I found myself laughing, often and at unexpected moments. Joke predictability is a peeve of mine, so unanticipated laughs were a delightful surprise. Although I’m still not sure about Cage-as-action-hero–he had an amazing comedy moment in NT2 that makes me think he’s being wasted in dramatic roles.
There was something about the faux-history of America as created by the writers in both films, something about these characters (especially Riley, but I won’t bore you any further with my geek crush) that kept me watching, not despite the fact that the situations and tones and even characters were archetypal-bordering-on-cliche, but because they were. It reminded me of some of my favorite X-Files episodes, of Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” and of course, the Indiana Jones films. (NT2 had at least two major visuals that hearkened back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, at least for me.) The female character was classically pretty (enough that Kruger did play Helen of Troy), but was at least distant from being a damsel in distress.
The story–in brief, because the plot summary alone challenges a reader’s attention span–is that a piece of John Wilkes’ Booth’s diary has been found that implicates Ben Gates’ great-great-grandfather in the Lincoln Assassination. To clear his ancestor’s name, Ben “gets the band back together” for car chases, booby-trapped treasure hunting, and family-packed adventure. Because this film, even more than its predecessor, is about personal and family history.


The sequel’s adventurers, Riley and girlfriend aside, are Gates and his squabbling, yet-scholarly parents, played by the wonderful Jon Voigt and Helen Mirren. They mirror the difficulties that Gates is having with Abigail (Kruger), illustrating that when two strong personalities come together, it’s often as attractive as it is destructive. Riley (Justin Bartha, of the surprisingly sparse IMDB profile here), the unsung hero of the first treasure discovery is looking for his own legacy, having published a book that no one has read or seems to even know about. (Even Gates hasn’t read Riley’s book.) Gates’ rival, Wilkinson (Ed Harris), is also on a family quest. True, he wants his family to be remembered as the ones who discovered the City of Gold, but legacy is legacy.
And it is legacy that drives the dialogue as well as the action. Though the trailers focus on the action, the eponymous Presidential Book of Secrets, and highlight a joke or two, the core issue is that you are your family. The quest is more for clearing the family name than it is for treasure, and on such a quest, you’re either figuratively– or in Gates’ case, literally–bringing your family with you. Or as one character sagaciously notes, although death can end a life, “history can remember you forever.”
National Treasure: Book of Secrets is out in theaters today…

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