Release Date:  November 19, 2004
Rating:  PG (for  action violence and some scary images)
Genre:  Drama/Thriller/Action
Run Time: 2 hrs. 11 min.
Director:  Jon Turteltaub
Actors:  Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer

Is it possible that a treasure is buried beneath us, on the very streets we cross, day and night?  And could we really be overlooking clues to where that treasure is buried, without realizing it at all?  These are the hypotheses behind “National Treasure,” which suffers from cinematic problems but which nonetheless offers an engaging story for people of all ages.

As the descendant of a Revolutionary carriage boy who happened upon a priceless cache of antiques, Nicholas Cage (“Con-Air,” “Gone in 60 Seconds”) plays Ben Gates, “treasure protector.”  As the story unfolds, we learn that our nation’s founding fathers, who were members of the fraternal order of the Knights Templar, or Freemasons, were said to have discovered a great treasure buried beneath the temple of King Solomon.  They brought it to the New World then devised elaborate clues – like the all-seeing eye in the dollar bill – for someone who might be wise enough to discover it.

Cage has been sworn to secrecy by his grandfather (Christopher Plummer), who also made Ben agree to protect the treasure.  Entire generations of Gates have spent their lives looking for it, much to the amusement of academicians, and Ben’s father (John Voight) has given up.  But during a trip to the Artic Circle, Ben discovers an antique pipe and information which indicates that a map to the treasure is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  Then his benefactor (Sean Bean) turns against him, hoping to keep the treasure for himself, and Ben must steal the Declaration before he does. 

This film suffers from some serious difficulties, not the least of which is bad acting, although thankfully not from its star.  Cage is good, as he always is, but this unimaginative role requires him to be far too cocksure, which can be annoying during the two-hour-plus film.  His techno-geek buddy (Justin Bartha, “Gigli”) also suffers from a role with far too little creativity, but nevertheless manages a few laughs.  Diane Krueger (“Troy”) as the requisite love interest, is not only boring but wholly unbelievable as the National Archives conservator who has way too much power for someone barely old enough to graduate from college, much less have already obtained her Ph.D. and years of stature.  Her lack of chemistry with Cage makes her part entirely disposable.  Too bad it wasn’t.  Harvey Keitel and Jon Voight are also disappointing, while Bean and his crew sleepwalk through their roles.

There are large holes in the plot, which also has too many climaxes to count, and the dialogue has a tendency toward the ridiculous.  For example, when the authorities ask Ben’s computer whiz how they planned to protect the Declaration after removing it from the Smithsonian Museum, he replies, “We have a clean room environment, EDS suits – the whole shebang.” The whole shebang, gobbledygook, whatchamacallit.  I’m certainly impressed.

Despite these problems, it’s still a fun film – believe it or not – especially for kids.  Director Jon Turteltaub and Disney are to be commended for making a thriller with almost no profanities and very little violence, and for proving that it can be done.  A gun appears only once and just one person is killed (when he accidentally falls to his death), which is of concern to the other characters, even though he’s a bad guy.  As for the romance aspect, we are fortunately subjected to just one kiss.