Book of Secrets
- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
teven Spielberg take note: if “Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is anything like “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets,” you’re going to have mobs of angry fanboys clawing at your door. Of course, that isn’t to say fans of the original “National Treasure” won’t enjoy the follow-up – it’s just that the Indy series is known more for its integrity than the kind of preposterous, over-the-top tall tales that have made Jerry Bruckheimer millions. Case in point: “Pirates of the Caribbean” co-writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio are partly responsible for the story behind “Book of Secrets,” and though the movie isn’t nearly as complicated as the last two “Pirates” films, there’s still nothing of real substance to be found. It’s like watching a Jason Bourne movie, minus the clever story, the jaw-dropping action sequences, and a lead that doesn’t belong in the nut house.
Nicolas Cage returns as Benjamin Gates, the historian-turned-treasure hunter last seen unlocking the mysteries of the Knights Templar. Since his remarkable discovery, Ben, along with his father Patrick (Jon Voight), has been spreading the good word on his family’s brave contributions to American history, but when a mysterious man (Ed Harris) delivers proof that his great-grandfather may have been involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Ben sets off on a quest to clear his family’s name. Along the way, Ben must attempt the impossible – including kidnapping the President (Bruce Greenwood), breaking in to Buckingham Palace, and gaining access to the titular Book of Secrets – all while piecing together a centuries-old treasure map that leads to the lost City of Gold.
If this sounds even remotely familiar, it’s because it is. Specific plot details aside, “Book of Secrets” is almost an exact replica of the first film, save for the fact that all of the clues have been changed to reflect different historical objects and locations. The heroes are still going after lost treasure (though Ben Gates would like you to believe his quest is about something less material), the clues are still conveniently connected to one another, and the villain effortlessly leeches information in order to stay in the race. But wait, there’s a twist! Harris’ villain isn’t so bad after all. In fact, he’s just misunderstood and wants to bring his own family name a little honor and recognition. Puh-lease. Bad is bad, and that’s that – especially when the dude holds your girlfriend hostage mere moments before pouring his heart out.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better. Cage (God bless him) is wacky as usual, and he really gets to let loose in a scene at Buckingham Palace, but the criminally underappreciated Justin Bartha gets royally screwed the second go-around. Usually, that’d be cause for more than a simple mention on my part, but since most of his lines go to Helen Mirren instead (who plays Cage’s mother), it’s easily forgivable. From the second she walks on screen, Mirren steals the show. How she came to be involved in such a project, however, is another question, but her scenes with Jon Voight are the only refreshing moments in the entire movie.
Unfortunately, not even Helen Mirren can save a movie like “Book of Secrets” from reeking of sequelitis. Director Jon Turteltaub would love to have the audience believe they’re watching an intellectual action film, but the fact that the average Google user could solve the film’s riddles just as fast as its brainiac protagonists could shows that it isn’t as smart as it would like to think. It’s not as good, either, but that won’t change the mind of most moviegoers this holiday season. In fact, they’ll probably be looking for a lot of the same popcorn fun that the first “National Treasure” offered. What they don’t realize is just how similar it will truly be.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
I could talk for hours on the mediocrity of the “National Treasure” franchise, but that won’t change the fact that Disney has done a commendable job with its Blu-ray release. Highlighted by a commentary track with director Jon Turteltaub and co-star Jon Voight, the single-disc effort is loaded with bonus features including deleted scenes (two of which are exclusive to Blu-ray owners) and five making-of featurettes ranging from the London chase sequence (“Street Stunts”) to the construction of the City of Gold. Rounding out the bonus material is a 5-minute blooper reel, an EPK promo (“Secrets of a Sequel”), a tour of the Library of Congress, and a brief documentary on the Knights of the Golden Circle. Blu-ray owners also have access to an in-movie trivia game (“Book of History: The Fact and Fiction of National Treasure 2”) that any high school graduate could complete with flying colors.