National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) — Ben Franklin’s racy diary revealed

“What are we gonna do next, short-sheet the Pope’s bed?”

Shalen’s rating: Four out of 10 mysterious Masonic inscriptions. The other six are hidden in various public locations worldwide.

Shalen’s review: So! Having received a reproachful e-mail from Justin on the subject of my total failure to submit any reviews for more than a month, rather than the two a month I promised back when I joined up,* I now sit down to wring the last bit of enjoyment out of another corny sequel.

But this is something special in the Department of Corn. And not just because of the whole premise, namely that it’s possible to put a secret compartment in a piece of furniture and not have it be discovered for several hundred years, despite being scrutinized by historians and other skilled detail-obsessive individuals whose ability to get a Ph.D and a job may well depend on their ability to notice things others have missed.** Nor do I refer to the fact that Presidents of the United States apparently pass down a secret book from Chief Executive to Chief Executive, and that every single one of them, including the ones who could not refrain from comically incriminating themselves, managed to keep it secret. No, National Treasure: Book of Shadows*** has so much more to offer the discerning viewer!

It has swelling patriotic chords for every occasion, including chatting up French police officers. It has a villain who occasionally forgets he’s supposed to be the villain and does something earthshakingly dumb even for that subspecies of humanity, such as heading off with the group of heroes that vastly outnumber him and leaving behind his nickel-plated nines with his henchmen. (The fact that he is eerie possibly-superpowered Ed Harris is, to this reviewer’s sleep-deprived caffeine-addled mind, no excuse.) In the end he’s dropped from the plot in a fittingly dismissive way, lacking closure and involving a sudden and completely implausible character reversal.

It has a secondary character whose name is not, surprisingly, McGuffin, even though he can apparently hack any computer in the whole wide world in seconds plus resolve random plot difficulties with a well-placed snarky comment while providing awkward comic relief. This particular character had me snickering quite a bit for another reason as well. There’s really no reason for Riley Poole to be in the story at all except as a plot device; his dynamic with the two romantically bickering protagonists is so awkward and yet so constant, his manner so androgynously flippy, that you half expect some sort of bizarre ménage at the end.****

And of course it has John Voight and Helen Mirren, both looking embarrassed and confused to be there and consequently acting as convincingly as a couple of petrified dicots. I’m not sure why Helen Mirren’s character is present either, except that perhaps Hollywood has realized how much the over-50 crowd outnumbers the rest of its audience and it better come up with some older couples tout suite.

The puzzles are random, implausible, and silly. The plot skips around between locations for no apparent reason other than to eat up dollars (being as how most American landmarks from the Founding Fathers’ day are on the East Coast of the U.S.A.). The soundtrack, as previously mentioned, is as subtle as dental surgery. This movie is hilariously bad in a way that only a well-budgeted sequel can be. This is why I’m reviewing it and not the first one, which was an unmemorable attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The Da Vinci Code. Trust a mutant.***** This is the one you want to see.

*Sad, fickle Shalen.
**That sentence does have a verb, it’s just not in the right place.
***Make sure you don’t miss the scene where Nicholas Cage sacrifices the President of the United States to Satan, then promptly forgets the whole experience.
****He is set up with a girl at the end of the movie. I’m not buying it.
*****And if you can’t trust mutants, whom can you trust?

Didja notice?

  • I didn’t see anything saying no violinists were harmed. I’m pretty sure at least one must have sprained something.
  • Nicholas Cage looking fairly high. Frequently.
  • When they are examining the city of gold for the first time, Riley picks up a large gold block, looks it over, and then stuffs it in his backpack with one hand. Any piece of gold that large weighs more than 50 pounds, which is much heavier than any average person, especially one Riley’s size, could lift single-handedly.
  • French cops have sexy, sexy outfits.
  • It is possible to get a remote-control helicopter with detonator-like control pad through customs.
  • Secrets that have been kept for hundreds of years can be solved in seconds by crazed treasure hunters.
  • In the scene where they are under the Temple in the City of Gold, Ben Gates yells “Come on Ed” instead of Mitch. (I am deeply embarrassed to say I missed this.)
  • Apparently the President of the United States can wander off through dark tunnels with a near-stranger with scarcely a peep from the Secret Service.
  • A completely out-of-place James Bond reference (the tuxedo under the wet suit).
  • The Incas built an awful lot of entrances that can be used only with the aid of sacrificial party members. Admittedly this is bourn out by Indiana Jones.
  • Riley says he got some information via the Freedom Of Information Act “in ’66”. The Act did not become law until 1974.
  • Harvey Keitel’s character is wearing a Masonic ring on the pinkie of his right hand. It’s most visible in the scene where he’s talking to Nicolas Cage outside Congress. [thanks Sarahbot!]

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