In the past few years, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer has discovered the joys of milking the preteen audience for its allowance, first with the torturous, computer-generated antics of Kangaroo Jack and then far more successfully with the high-spirited Pirates of the Caribbean. The man who used to wear his R-rated action pictures like a badge of honor — Bad Boys, The Rock, Con Air — is back in kiddie-friendly PG territory with National Treasure, the kind of movie that makes you wish there was a separate I.Q. rating to discourage parents from exposing their offspring to dreck like this.
The script seems like it was dreamt up by a few History Channel execs on a coke binge: Fearless adventurer/founding-father expert Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) devotes his life to finding a hidden cache of art, jewelry and gold. According to his family’s legend, the stash was socked away by, um, various members of the Continental Congress, presumably when they weren’t busy laying the building blocks of modern society. Gates’ tireless efforts and utterly stupendous powers of deduction lead him to none other than the Declaration of Independence, which contains a heretofore unseen treasure map written in, um, invisible ink. Problem is, Gates needs access to the document, and the Bush administration doesn’t allow mere citizens to tamper with the Declaration, the Constitution, or other similar texts — just congressional lawmakers (but that’s a rant for another time).
Throw in a rogue colleague (Lord of the Rings alum Sean Bean, looking suspiciously like Queer Eye’s Carson Kressley) and a sympathetic, buxom federal employee (Diane Kruger, still recovering from Troy), and you’ve got a recipe for general-purpose action-adventure, Bruckheimer-style. Think of it Raiders of the National Archives.
It goes without saying that anything bearing the Bruckheimer stamp of approval will be unapologetically dumb; all an audience can ask is that his products deliver the adrenaline-pumping goods, which National Treasure doesn’t. Cage manages a few blissfully smirky, self-aware moments, but those only call to mind the actual decent films he used to make. Director Jon Turteltaub shoots practically everything in disorienting close-ups, and when the action scenes become hard to follow (which is all the time), he blasts the volume on the cheesy, ’80s-sounding score to overcompensate. It’s not enough that kids will walk out of National Treasure with a seriously warped notion of American history — they’ll also suffer from a nasty case of tinnitus.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].