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Movies Review

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

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National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenwriters: Marianne Wibberley, Cormac Wibberley
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, Helen Mirren
Running time: 124 mins
Certificate: PG

It's unlikely anybody involved with National Treasure: Book of Secrets ever expected to find themselves picking up Oscars, Globes and Baftas come the gong season. With a plot that sees the main cast hijacking Buckingham Palace, ransacking the White House, kidnapping the President of the United States and discovering a city of gold, they weren't in any danger of troubling the Academy. What's more likely is that they were hoping to create a bums-on-seats blockbuster that established Nicolas Cage's Ben Gates character as a money-making franchise to rival James Bond and Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, Jon Turletaub's movie falls woefully short of that goal and has more in common with the worst Steven Segal movies of the '90s than anything starring Harrison Ford or Daniel Craig.

Book of Secrets follows the attempts of Ben Gates (Cage) and his father (Voight) to save their family's name after Ben's great-grandfather is revealed to be one of the conspirators in the murder of Abraham Lincoln. Gates refuses to believe the revelation and with the help of his former lover (Kruger) and comic sidekick Riley (Bartha) he attempts to solve a series of codes and riddles that will clear the family name and restore his great-grandfather's status as a national hero.

The gang's quest takes them on a series of unbelievable and ridiculous operations around the globe, as clues lead them from France to London and finally back home to the US, where they are confronted with the problem that the only man who can solve the final clue happens to be the US President. What follows is an even more ludicrous series of set pieces that see Gates and co try to kidnap the US President and attempt to uncover a lost city of gold. Oh, and to add to the confusion, Mitch Wilkinson (Harris), who revealed the evidence that branded Gates' great-grandfather a national traitor at the start of the film, is out to discover the city of gold for himself and will do all that it takes to stop the others.

While the premise of the movie is simple enough, it's hard to convey in a short summary how much of a mess the plot truly is. Lurching from one utterly baffling scene to the next, it doesn't just ask the audience to suspend their disbelief, it asks them to hurl it out of the cinema lobby window. At just over two hours long this movie takes far too many needless, yet all too-often predictable twists, which will end up leaving you cold, confused and worst of all just plain bored. The only emotion this movie is likely to arouse from cinema-goers is laughter at the occasional moments where Cage furrows his eyebrows and attempts to get all serious on us about the importance of American history.

It's clear from the off that Book of Secrets has no pretence at being a 'classic' movie, but that can't excuse how low this movie aims. The fact we're supposed to believe that you can break into the White House or Buckingham Palace by wooing some security staff with a bit of cleavage or turning on the fire alarms is incredible enough, but the fact a man can kidnap the President by politely asking him to come down a secret passageway with him is simply comical. Even if you are willing to let this pass, the fact that all these sequences amount to sort of excitement usually found in a Last Of The Summer Wine re-run is surely inexcusable. To call the movie the Asda Smart Price version of Indiana Jones would be a terrible disservice to Spielberg's movies - and to Asda Smart Price.

Cage appears to have a fetish for appearing in absolute clangers every so often and this is one of his biggest. Aged 44, and with hair thinning at an alarming rate, he cuts a very unconvincing hero. Occasionally he dons a pair of shades to presumably look more dynamic, but ends up looking more like a middle-aged dad getting ready for a caravan holiday around the South of France. The rest of the casting is miserably predictable with the attractive female using her feminine wiles to lure in men, the bumbling geek cracking lame gags and cracking computer codes and Gates' father proving to be a wise old chap who keeps letting the baddies catch up with them because he's too doddery to notice he's being bugged. Quite how Helen Mirren and Ed Harris got trapped into helping with the flick is unfathomable, but their deflated and unenthused performances suggest the audiences aren't the only ones bored by the script.

At the film's centre is a flimsy moralistic lecture that the study of history is of vital importance to us all and that the role of American president is an honorable one and is still something to be cherished and admired, because they will always make the right decision for the nation in the end. While there will of course be a few gullible sorts that can stomach this crass loosely political discussion, most will end up leaving the cinema with their sick bags full to brimming. Book of Secrets is a painful film that manages the rare feat of aiming for the lowest common denominator of cinema-goer and shooting way, way below that.

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