Jerry Bruckheimer is losing his touch.
The longtime action producer’s new film, “National Treasure,” is not “Indiana Jones,” no matter how hard it tries. And while its storyline does pick up as the movie progresses, something is lost between lackluster acting and the campy scavenger-hunt premise.
The film, directed by Jon Turteltaub (“Cool Runnings”), follows the exploits of Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) as he continues his family’s quest to find a centuries-old treasure. Gates, along with sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and Ian Howe (Sean Bean), makes an important discovery in the Arctic Circle that points to the Declaration of Independence as the next clue to finding the treasure. But Howe turns violent and leaves Gates out in the cold, literally.
The film then follows Gates and Riley’s attempts to collect the clues — and sexy archivist Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) along the way — before Howe and his gang of thugs get to them. The clues range from the invisible map on the back of the 228-year old document to the clocktower on the back of the $100 bill.
The travels that they embark on (from the Arctic to Washington D.C., then to Philadelphia and finally Manhattan) combined with the hilariously trivial clues (particularly amusing are the Benjamin Franklin-designed colored glasses) should amount to a fun, fast-paced movie. But the film constantly treats its incredibly intricate mythology a little too seriously, falling embarassingly flat.
The acting is another source of opportunity gone by the wayside. The most frustrating character is Riley, who is nothing more than a caricature of the techie-dork. His lines are predictable, annoying and very rarely funny — a notable problem for the comic relief.
Almost as unsatisfying is Cage as the protagonist, considering he’s played a wide range of likeable and charismatic heroes in his other Bruckheimer films like “The Rock” and “Con Air” — not to mention really acted in films like “Adaptation” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” But here he seems less than eager in the role of heir to a family of treasure hunters. The Oscar-winner fails to establish a personality, and audiences will find it difficult to care about Gates and whether or not he makes it out of the exploding ship or the deep pit below the church. The emotionless Cage seems bored and listless.
Screen veterans Harvey Keitel and Jon Voight — as FBI agent Sadusky and Gates’ father, respectively — deliver fine performances but in roles that are hackneyed and unoriginal, limiting the old actors’ abilities to be particularly engaging. Kruger’s character is little more than “the hot girl,” an awkwardly inserted love interest for Gates in a failed attempt to give the film another dimension, and Bean’s villain is similarly nothing new.
As far as Turteltaub’s directing goes, it’s difficult to expect much from a man whose most recent work includes “The Kid” and “Phenomenon.” But the blame for the movie’s shortcomings should fall on Bruckheimer, the uber-producer well known for action movies that balance intense, well-shot action with punchy humor. His films are almost always successes at the box offices (“Treasure” is no exception), and a good many with critics as well (the most recent to fit both descriptions is last year’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”)
But “National Treasure” lacks the comedic edge that makes his films entertaining. The movie takes itself laughably seriously — perhaps the only way people will find something to smile at. Sadly, everything just seems to fall short.