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National Treasure

Movies | The idea that historic sites and artifacts hold clues to a treasure trove holds a guilty-pleasure appeal

Issue: "Rice: Starboard at State," Dec. 4, 2004

Jerry Bruckheimer films appeal to the most juvenile of impulses in moviegoers. Rarely, however, are they actually suited for young audiences. That changes with National Treasure.

The film features a PG rating (for action violence and some scary images) and sheds the crudeness and labored self-importance that weighs down Mr. Bruckheimer's other productions. The film is just as silly, if not sillier, but at least it's mostly appropriate for the one audience that could truly appreciate it (adolescent boys) and possesses a certain contagious glee in its goofiness.

Mr. Cage, able as always to deliver preposterous lines with absolute conviction, stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates. Gates is the latest in a line of treasure hunters/patriots searching for a vast treasure hidden around the time of the Revolutionary War. The "scholarly community" looks on the Gates family as kooks, but, to the chagrin of his disillusioned father (Jon Voight), Ben believes in his quest.

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The groan-inducing moments come early and often. We first meet the adult Gates searching in the arctic wilderness for a sunken ship, The Charlotte. Within the space of about five minutes of screen time, and, as suggested by the film's editing, only about 10 minutes of real time, Gates and co. find the ship, free it from the ice, find the one important clue within a barrel, discover how to use the clue, and then use the clue's obtuse riddle to determine that a treasure map is on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Oh, then there's a double-cross and the ship explodes in a ball of fire.

So goes the rest of the film. Don't expect National Treasure to make sense, in terms of history, physics, or internal logic. But the central premise, that our nation's historic sites and artifacts hold clues to the location of the world's largest treasure trove, holds a certain guilty-pleasure appeal.

If one can ignore the whitewashing of the Freemasons (in the film, they're successors to the Knights Templar in protecting the treasure, and seem to serve no other purpose than this honorable cause), National Treasure's straight-faced commitment to its ludicrous premise offers some grinning fun.

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