National Treasure (2004)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sean Bean, Diane Kruger, Jon Voigt, Harvey Keitel, Justin Bartha

Directed by: John Turteltaub

Rating: 1 2

First of all, I must apologise to any Americans who may happen to be reading this. Perhaps, being nothing but an ignorant, greedy, money-grasping Brit with no sense of cultural or historical value, I don't quite get National Treasure. Allow me to explain.

National Treasure is the latest blockbuster (ish) adventure from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable, which brought us Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur, CSI and that other programme I keep thinking is called Missing but isn't.

Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates in National Treasure

The ever reliable Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates. For two hundred years, his family have harboured a secret, a clue that supposedly leads to the location of a vast haul of treasure, a cache of incalculable historical, cultural and monetary value, amassed over thousands and thousands of years by various ancient societies, including the Knights Templar (cue shots of nice men in chainmail wielding rubbish swords) before finally being shipped to America by the Freemasons and buried, to keep it from the grasping hands of. the British. Thanks guys.

His father (Jon Voigt) thinks the legend is bunkum, but Gates has devoted his life to tracking down the treasure. And when we meet up with him, he's almost found it. Aided by evil, greedy, money-grasping, millionaire criminal Ian Howe (everyone's favourite Yorkshireman, Sean Bean) and his merry band of vocally challenged Scottish hardmen, Gates has solved the first clue. Trouble is, the next is written on the back of the Declaration of Independence. In invisible ink.

Sean Bean as bad guy Ian with some Scottish hardmen in tow

No problem for Ian, of course. Being an evil, ignorant, greedy, yadda yadda yadda Brit, he has no qualms about stealing the cornerstone of modern America and running chemical tests on it, and when Gates objects, he tries to blow him up. Whereupon Gates decide that the only sensible way to prevent Ian from stealing the Declaration is to get their first. After all, as any good terrorist knows, if a job needs doing and the government won't do it, there's nothing for it but to do it yourself. And this, folks, is actually enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. (Apparently it's the right or even duty of the American people to rise up against corrupt government. so how come Bush is still in the White House? Oops, I'm not supposed to do politics, am I?)

Anyway, the two rival treasure hunters must now compete to steal the precious document. Enjoy this bit, because the heist is definitely the highlight of the film - even if we are forced to see British brute force and reliance on guns and explosions bested by good ol' American cunning. (Huh?) Just a shame once it's over there's still another hour and a half to go.

Dr Chase (Diane Kruger) does her ancient document specialist thing

At this point we are introduced to Dr Abigail Chase, aka Diane Kruger (an actress I have to admire, purely for her ability to wear even more dark eye make-up than me), aka Helen of Troy. An expert in old American documents (boy, she must be busy), she is responsible for the preservation of the Declaration. She is also German, her inability to produce a credible American accent laboriously excused in a scene worthy of any Jean Claude Van Damme movie. And yet sadly she doesn't turn out to be an undercover Nazi, waiting, like any Indiana Jones villain worth their salt, to pounce on the treasure once Nic and/or Sean have found it for her. Verdammt!

No, despite an initial refusal to believe a word Gates says, Dr Chase soon teams up with our gallant hero and his trusty computer geek sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha, ever ready with a comedy quip and an unfeasibly fast laptop) in the race to find the treasure. Not only that, but the intrepid trio also have the FBI on their backs, in the unexpected form of Harvey Keitel (mortgage payments overdue or what?) who appears to be sporting almost as much eyeliner as Ms Kruger. Odd.

Once clue leads to another, until, like Gates Snr (who is of course also dragged into the action) we begin to despair of anyone ever finding the damn treasure. Will there even be any nice, shiny gold Pirates style stash, or will the real find be some horrible American values instead? Like the importance of family and friends, or something? Aha, you'll just have to go and see it, won't you? Lucky you.

Oh come on, it's not all bad. For a start, you can never underestimate the ability of Nicolas Cage to carry a rubbish film (The Rock, anyone?). His uncanny ability to throw himself heart and soul into a role he clearly thinks is ridiculous makes him perfect for this kind of holiday hamfest and his tongue-in-cheek seriousness and amusing hair implants are always entertaining. And of course it's nice to see the lovely Sean Bean on screen post LOTR - no Boromir hair-weave for him, this time he's sporting a fetching blonde floppy footballer do - and Diane Kruger is delightfully easy on the eye for the lads, even if she can't act for toffee.

So what's not to get then? It's just a cut price version of The Da Vinci Code, isn't it, with even easier clues to solve? (Although the laughable Liberty Bell Yahoo search does actually work - try it and see.) Well, perhaps it's me being a snobby, culturally effete European, but I can't help seeing the whole thing as a lame attempt on the behalf of our transatlantic cousins to endow their infant civilisation with mystic significance by aligning the forefathers of America with the Knights Templar, the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks. I mean, the Declaration of Independence is just not the Holy Grail, is it?

Nicolas Cage in the process of carrying a rubbish film

And, I must admit, the whole 'stupid, greedy Brits thing' is a bit annoying. This is exactly the kind of film I had in mind when I was slagging off Churchill - The Hollywood Years and complaining that there are quite enough American films out there to make the British look crass and useless and why does Britain need to make more?

Ah well, perhaps I'm taking it all too seriously. It's only a film, and a darned silly one at that. Part Indiana Jones, part James Bond, all together it just doesn't strike gold. As Captain Jack so rightly says, 'Not all treasure is gold and silver, mate.' Some of it's just crap.

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