NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS is a cutesy and inane follow-up to the only slightly less cutesy and inane NATIONAL TREASURE. The plot feels like it was cobbled together from the sort of random ideas tossed out during the wee hours of the morning during an all-night brainstorming session, ideas that seem like genius when the blood-sugar is low and the REM sleep-deprivation is at its height. It takes an hour of the film’s running time to even get to the book part, with all that went before and after trying to make the audience not notice that the entire story hinges on evidence exposing the conspiracy to assasinate Abraham Lincoln that didn’t exist until decades >after< the fatal bullet was fired. The word shambles comes to mind.
Shambles is also how we find the protagonists from part one. Ben (Nicolas Cage) and Abigail (Diane Kruger) are on the outs apparently because Ben is smart and Abigail says “so” a lot. He and several dozen rooms’ worth of boxes have moved in with his father, Patrick (Jon Voight). Riley (Justin Bartha), the tech-geek is in trouble with the IRS after some bad accounting advice, and is striking out with the babes even though his author photo on the book he’s written looks very good. But never mind the present, the past has gone sour, too, with new evidence proving that one of Ben’s ancestors masterminded the plot to kill Lincoln. This forces Ben to engage in a conspiracy of his own to kidnap the current president (Bruce Greenwood) and force him to spill the proverbial beans about the presidential book of secrets, which for some reason will prove the ancestor’s innocence and give directions to a lost city of gold.
Would that I were kidding.
Tenuous clues, free association, and the flimsiest of scams are all the film has to offer, that and a few perfunctory car chases because this is, after all, a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Ben and Riley rattle around Paris, London, and Washington, D.C., breaking in where they shouldn’t and never getting caught. Abigail, for reasons that remain a mystery since she’s fed up and then some with Ben, not only joins them, she gets in on the act sneaking into the Queen’s private sitting room in Buckingham Palace. Who, after all, would question the presence of a stranger carrying a vase of flowers in the private apartments? Especially two strangers? And if all of that weren’t bad enough, the already punishing running time is extended due to the script’s penchant for having characters describe in detail what the audience has just seen.
Ed Harris and Helen Mirren join in, the former to cast the aspersions on Ben’s family, the latter as Ben’s mother, who just happens to be an expert in ancient Native American languages, one of which just happens to pop up as a clue. Harris’ only job is to glower and Mirren’s is to be part of the punchline of a sub-plot involving her ex and a fight over how to pack toothbrushes.
Again, would that I were kidding.
The climax involves uninspired art design, even less inspired special effects and is as predictable as a remedial connect-the-dots game. Uninspired is also the word for Cage’s performance, which involves being glassy-eyed and all but inert. It’s a good match for the sort of dialogue he’s given, and the efforts that the rest of the cast make to inject some life into it only makes it seem duller, if possible.
NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS takes itself much too seriously, thereby failing even in what should have been its easiest hurdle: playing fast and loose with the culture of conspiracy buffs. There isn’t a meaty bit of secret history to savor, just a jumble of fluff that is as annoying as it is dumb.