This is a big, dumb, stunts and explosions movie that doesn’t quite make it even by action movie standards because it has a big, dumb script. Two Oscar-winning actors, location filming, tricked-up quick cuts, a thundering and blaring score, enormous and elaborate sets, and big explosions to blow up the enormous and elaborate sets can’t make up for a hole-filled story-line and generic characters who spout painfully leaden attempts at banter.
Nicolas Cage is Benjamin Franklin Gates, the heir to a long line of patriots and historians who have been chasing a legendary treasure for generations. According to his grandfather, one of their ancestors was told by a signer of the Declaration of Independence that there was a secret treasure. The only clue to finding it refers to “Charlotte.” A couple of centuries later, Ben finds the Charlotte (a shipwreck), accompanied by wise-cracking sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), and Ian Howe (Sean Bean), who financed the expedition. They find another clue that suggests the answer may be hidden on the Declaration of Independence.
It turns out that Ian wants to steal the treasure, and the only way for Ben to stop him is (this is the movie talking, not me) to steal the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives in Washington and then use lemon juice and a blow-dryer to get it to reveal the map that shows where the treasure is hidden.
Chasing after Ben and Riley are Archives’ honcho Dr. Chase (Troy’s Helen, Diane Kruger), Ian and his henchmen, and the FBI, and the treasure hunt will take them to historic sites in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, from the highest of high-tech security to the ricketiest of ancient catacombs.
This all might have made a nice little adventure movie if it hadn’t been weighed down by its own grandiosity. It’s easier to suspend disbelief on a lower budget. But with errors of logic and science that a third-grader will laugh at, the extravagance of the movie’s effects just seems like one more distraction. When the effects seem more real than the characters, the quest, and, especially, the jokes, even an overstuffed movie like this one just feels empty.
Parents should know that this is an action film with a lot of chases and explosions and some gunplay. Characters are in frequent peril and some are taken hostage. There are brief glimpses of corpses and skeletons. A minor character is killed (off-screen). When Ben says he is in trouble, his father asks if the woman he has with him is pregnant. Characters use mild (sometimes crude) PG-style language and there is some social drinking at a party. There is a lot of reckless and irresponsible behavior, even within the traditions of this genre.
Families who see this film should talk about their own family legends and heirlooms. They might also want to talk about some of the decisions made by the characters, especially the one made by Benjamin Gates at the end. What would you ask for in those circumstances?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a nice little caper film called Who’s Minding the Mint that has an oddball gang breaking into the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. They will also enjoy the Indiana Jones films and Stargate. Every family should visit the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence (which is very well guarded). This website will show you what is really on the back of the Declaration and let you “sign” it yourself. Families might also want to learn about the real-life Masons — not nearly as mysterious as the movie version but an organization with a long and distinguished record of community service.