Movies this week: 'National Treasure' fun but absurd

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2004

How do you get children to ingest something healthy? Either you tell them that they can't leave the table until all their vegetables are gone, or you buy cereal with a sugary veneer to hide the taste of the stuff that's good for them. With the latter, there's always the fun of looking for the hidden prize in the box.

"National Treasure" plays a lot like a sugar-coated box of cereal. It's a history lesson disguised as a treasure hunt, with enough eye-candy coating to keep any kid bouncing off the walls long after the closing credits.

Nicolas Cage portrays Benjamin Gates in a story that is slightly absurd, but is typical of just about every Jerry Bruckheimer production. Mr. Gates is the charismatic history buff who flexes his mental muscle as he searches for a treasure that has eluded his family for generations.

This treasure of immeasurable wealth was hidden by the founding fathers and the sole clue to its whereabouts was entrusted to his great, great grandfather. Now, Gates is the first man in his family to have discovered what that clue really means and with the help of his clichéd, funny man sidekick, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), he is so close to the treasure that he can taste it.

National Treasure Rating: HH

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and Justin Bartha.

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Parent's guide: PG

Running time: 2 hours, 21 minutes.

The only problem is that his former partner, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), wants to secure the treasure for himself and is not reluctant to employ strong-arm tactics to get what he wants.

Enter the lovely Abigail Chase (played by Diane Kruger, looking a lot better than she can act), a history geek who just happens to be the keeper of the key that both men seek, the Declaration of Independence.

Mix in some good relationship chemistry, add a little bad-guy hostility with a dash of canned hilarity and just a pinch of story-line ingenuity, and you get a recipe for box office victory.

Granted, this film is probably not a landmark in cinematic history, but it does do a good job of making a story out of some of the most historical relics that Americans hold dear. The logic behind the clues is so absurdly historically insignificant that they almost make sense when applied to a movie that reeks of Bruckheimer's patented melodrama.

The director, Jon Turteltaub, has crafted a film that is fun to watch without being too over the top all the time. It has plenty of explosions and narrow escapes, but after watching you somehow feel like you learned something. Not quite as good as "The Incredibles," but it's a refreshing course that the whole family can enjoy. Plus, it's somewhat educational and it makes knowing a lot of historical facts seem really beneficial.

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