By Admin | November 20, 2004

Can you take Oscars back?

I realize Nicolas Cage is hardly the most egregious offender when it comes to Academy Award Best Actor winners who suddenly go off the deep end into cinematic suckitude (I think F. Murray Abraham and fellow “National Treasure” co-star Jon Voight might have that honor sewn up), but in the nine years since his win for “Leaving Las Vegas,” Cage has starred in some 15 films, only one of which (Adaptation.) wasn’t a formulaic eyesore. Two of those were directed by John Woo (and “Face/Off” alone should be justification enough to revoke his visa), while four – including “National Treasure” – were produced by none other than Hollywood’s favorite crap merchant, Jerry Bruckheimer.

“C’mon,” you’re saying, “Give Bruckheimer some credit. He made Black Hawk Down and Pirates of the Caribbean, didn’t he?” Why yes he did, but the laws of probability tell us that if a monkey throws enough darts at a dartboard, eventually he’s going to hit a bull’s-eye or two. The rest are going, likely as not, into the wall (Bad Boys II) or the waiter’s a*s (Pearl Harbor).

We’re at a loss to explain the parasitic relationship between Cage and Bruckheimer, however. The latter seems to have the Midas touch, both in his films (the high profile ones consistently gross over $100 million) and his television ventures (“CSI” and “The Amazing Race”), while Cage – as we’ve discussed – has seen his star dim almost as fast as his hairline is receding.

But enough cheap shots (for now), as “National Treasure” opens, we learn the story of Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage), last descendant of the family privy to a secret passed down from America’s Founding Fathers concerning a vast treasure, acquired by the Knights Templar and guarded by the Freemasons (sounds like someone spent an afternoon surfing conspiracy web sites), which was ultimately hidden from the British during the Revolutionary War. Gates believes, as do most of his ancestors, that there are clues to the treasure’s location sprinkled throughout historical landmarks and documents, and has devoted most of his life to seeking them out.

After this intro, we’re whisked to the Arctic, where Gates is leading an expedition to unearth a ship supposedly sunk there hundreds of years before (I know, I know). This scene is little more than a chance to jump-start the plot while at the same time establishing the identity of the villain, played in an astounding leap of casting by Sean Bean. The stage is also set for the ridiculous leaps in logic and physical impossibilities that will mark the film from here on out, as the characters discover there’s a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Bad guy Bean wants to steal the Declaration, an idea which is anathema to goody-two-shoes like Gates and his occasionally humorous computer geek sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha). After some stuff blows up real good, the now-competing factions heads back to the States to obtain the Declaration and find the loot.

“National Treasure” wants desperately to be “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And to an extent it is, minus the latter’s pacing, writing, acting, humor, and story. Instead, we get car chases, foot chases, product endorsements (an entire scene takes place, I s**t you not, as the principals are trying on new clothes at Urban Outfitters), and realistic scenarios like the setting of a fire in a frozen ship’s hold. “National Treasure” also has the benefit of modern day technology, meaning any seemingly insurmountable technical obstacle is easily overcome through the use of a computer and a cable with an alligator clip at the end.

For all that, “National Treasure” is a movie that once again demonstrates Bruckheimer’s unholy business savvy, as it promises to be the first in a slew of pics capitalizing on America’s love of amateur codebreaking (thanks to the success of The Da Vinci Code). Of course, we don’t want our films to be too complicated, otherwise there’d be a movie in the works based on Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

Film legend (“The Kid,” “3 Ninjas”) John Turtletaub “directs” this mess, which seems to mean coaxing the laziest performances possible from his cast, at least two of whom (Cage and Harvey Keitel) are supposed to be good. To his credit, Keitel grins and bears it. Cage is merely on autopilot. Gates is “The Rock’s” Stanley Goodspeed with a better wardrobe and a slightly better rap. “National Treasure” has almost nothing to recommend it (Justin Bartha’s performance being the lone high point), not even any gnarly explosions, which doesn’t bode well for our man Bruckheimer.

There’s always TV. I wonder if he’d like my idea for “CSI: Bangkok?”

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