Sunday, November 21, 2004

National Treasure Review?!?

Honestly, I had no desire to see this movie. Frankly, the trailer sucked harder than Traci Lords at 15. And, much as they trumpeted it as "A film by John Turtletaub"...what the hell's he done? 3 Ninjas??? While You Were Sleeping??? Sorry, I be not impressed by the name.
Sure, it's a Jerry Bruckheimer production, so the director is really an afterthought. And frankly, that's what saves National Treasure. This is the most tightly paced film I've seen all year. They don't waste a lot of time with anything, which means that some requisites like charcter development and motivation fall by the wayside (more on that later). Considering the subject matter, it's a very unconventional actioner.
Nicholas "Will Whore Self for Comic Books" Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, the latest in a long line of a family of dreamers who believe they have the keys to a legendary treasure that's been accumulated by the Freemasons and hidden somewhere in the US. The treasure started out in Egypt, moved around and was finally brought to the US and hidden with an elaborate trail of clues to find its whereabouts. Including a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

For the record, the Freemasons do not control the planet. Not that one or two of them haven't TRIED, but they don't. Also, the Freemasons predate the Knights Templar by almost a thousand years (shhhh!). The Templars got their start from rites learned during the Crusades from an obscure sect of Sufiism that was, at one time, headquartered in Alexandria, Egypt. Another offshoot of said group took root in Tora Borah in what's now Afghanistan and gave us the word Assassin (because their agents were always high on hashish) and ended up giving birth to the Thuggee in India (without which we'd have no Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Freemasons were actually introduced into Europe by Jewish exiles from the Holy Land (which was why, in Italy, they were pursued as a Jewish cult - in France and Spain, the Templars were condemned for being Mohammadeans and/or pederasts -- but that's the Inquisition for ya).
Also, the treasure supposedly guarded by the Masons/Templars/etc wasn't supposed to be monetary. It was allegedly the bloodline of Christ (which was the impetus for the Grail myth, also). All this material has been, in one way or another, covered many times before in movies (Tombs of the Blind Dead, Dogma), TV shows (Kolchak, the Night Stalker, The X-Files, Gargoyles), books (Illuminatus!, The DaVinci Code) and even comics (Rex Mundi).

All factual errors and ommisions aside, it's a damn entertaining film because it MOVES. There's never any time to catch your breath. Each new clue is rushed to quickly, and pauses to breathe are sparse. The plot isn't nearly as intricate as they'd like you to think, but the movie's not really stupid, either. You can't throw out references to the Conspiracy in a film and be dumb. Unless, of course, Brett Ratner gets to direct. The film contains enough stock Bruckheimer moments to fill a Fox pilot, but it seems to struggle a bit against the formula. It wants to be something more, and can't quite get there.
Why? Well, for one you don't really get to know any of the characters, but that's OK, because Cage is busy just trying to be the world's most poorly dressed action hero.

All he needs is a gold chain and two more buttons open on his shirt, and he's Lee Fucking Majors. Do you really need to know more than that? The assistant (Justin "Hey, I Still Have Gigli on My Resume" Bartha) is kinda fey and won't end up with the girl (like you ever believe he's interested in chicks anyway). The girl (Diane "Will Launch 1000 Ships With My Face" Kruger), well, she's a hawtie. The bad guys? Well, they're...bad! Sort of...
See??? They're wearing black! PURE EVIL!!!
Sean "Will Boromir For Food" Bean...well, he's semi-motivated by greed. But he also seems genuinely excited by the mystery, too. It's just...well, he'd like to solve the mystery AND get the money. Sure, he waves a gun around a couple times, but you never REALLY think he's gonna kill anyone. He's the kinder, gentler generic action villain. His henchman? Well, a few of them scowl a bit, but they don't seem like such bad guys. They just seem like schmucks doing a job. Hell, one of the evil henchmen even gets the best line of the movie (How often does THAT happen??? Villains aren't supposed to get the witty one-liners!!! This movie takes place on Bizarro World!) right after the big kiss scene.
Have I meantioned that Diane Kruger is smokinfuckinhot?
. I never for a moment believed her as the curator of the National Archives...but she's really easy on the eyes.
Christopher "Will Quote Shakespeare in Klingon" Plummer, Jon "Will Act for a Ham Sandwich" Voight and Harvey "Will Whip Out Cock for Food" Keitel round out the supporting cast, lending class to the slick production, but not much else, as all three of them are in the movie for less than 5 minutes total combined screen time.
Now on to the real bitching. First off, there's no map on the back of the Declaration. First, there's a series of numbers in invisible ink -- it's a code. Whee. Then, later, once Cage and Company find a set or Revolutionary War-era 3-D glasses, they find two more messages on the back of the document. But no fucking map. Is it too much to ask for for one simple fucking map? The previews promised me a map, dammit! Second...3-D glasses??? I know Benjamin Franklin was a genius and all, but what use would they have for 3-D glasses? I half expected the last part of the movie to be in 3-D National Treasure Vision. Which would have made Diane Kruger pop out of the screen (drool). Also, is it too much to ask for that the baddies at least, I dunno, break something? Act menacing? Be mean to small children (Yes, they're perfectly nice to the small child -- I shit you not)? Perhaps that was a comprimise to putting the movie out under the Walt Disney Studios banner. BE NICE TO THE KIDS, BAD GUYS! Sure, he's a fairly cool little kid and all...but come bitch slap? No menacing threats? At least offer him candy or threaten to drop him off in front of a Catholic Church! Lastly...right about 3/4 of the way through the movie, Gates grabs Abigail the Hot Curator and plants one on her (eliciting the line from Evil Henchman #2). No warning. He just does it because it's something Action Heroes do. Now, I can't say I blame him because Diane Kruger is, well, beautiful. But there was no sexual tension prior to the kiss, and immediately afterward, the two of them are utterly smitten. I half expected them to spontaneously come up with cutesy pet names. Of course, at that point, the movie would have devolved into camp, Riley the assistant would dance in a gold thong, Voight would speak in a bad Brando accent, the Masons would control the world and Harvey Keitel would get his dick out. Had Joel Schumacher made this movie six or seven years ago, I fully expect that this would have happened. And honestly, it might have added some much-needed spice.
I can't say that I'd buy National Treasure on DVD, but I might watch it again on cable or something. It may not be worth balcony prices, but a good dollar theater should make it worth your time. It's too bland for much more. Back tomorrow with at least 1 more review...

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