(PG) 2 starsEd Johnson-Ott
Imagine an adult version of The Goonies, only without the sense of fun, and you'll have a fair idea of what to expect from National Treasure, the latest from master-of-cinematic-bombast Jerry Bruckheimer. Who would have thought that the man behind The Amazing Race could produce a big-screen scavenger hunt that falls so flat? Nicolas Cage, shooting for a heroic geek-stud hybrid and missing by a country mile, plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, who learned as a little boy (from grandpa Christopher Plummer) that his family was privy to a grand secret. Seems a massive number of treasures from ancient Egypt were taken into protective custody by the Freemasons, many of whom were also among America's Founding Fathers. Clues have been left that, if viewed properly, will lead to the treasure trove.
Apparently, the Gates family has yapped about this considerably, because the whole lineage has been perceived as crackpots for the last two centuries. So Ben searches for the bounty, primarily to clear the family name. His father (a mildewy Jon Voight) thinks it's all a crock, which propels Ben even more.
Double-crossed in the Arctic by partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean), Ben and his comic relief sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) must race to Philadelphia, because the latest clue indicates that information vital to the search is written in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
When his request for a look-see is turned down by National Archives curator Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), Ben decides to steal the document, to find the information and to protect it from Ian and his thugs. Before long, Ben and Riley end up on the run, from Ian and the F.B.I. (headed by Harvey Keitel in a you-get-one-decent-speech-in-this-movie role), and with Dr. Abigail in tow. She was tailing them, you see, and ... oh, who cares?
The rest of the film is a long, plodding chase from one historic landmark to the next, with gunfire or explosions tossed in every so often. The movie is very busy, but not at all satisfying. Why? Part of the problem is the ill-fitting cast. Justin Bartha does serviceable work, but Nicolas Cage is a hangdog drag, Jon Voight is annoying and Diane Kruger is clueless on what to do with the least credible character in the movie. There is zero chemistry between her and Cage, incidentally.
And then there are all the guns that never hit anyone and a stunning - I mean stunning - lack of security at the various historic landmarks. As a result there is no sense of tension, and tension is necessary for an adventure/chase movie to work.
Which National Treasure doesn't.