Judge Clark Douglas suspects that if there actually is a book of secrets, it probably contains Richard Nixon's casserole recipes, not the answer to who killed JFK.
Our review of National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets, published May 20th, 2008, is also available.
The greatest adventure in history.
Just so you know, I'm going to go ahead and tell you: this is not the greatest adventure in history.
Facts of the Case
If you saw the first National Treasure film, you'll remember that Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage, The Rock) is a treasure hunter. In the first film, he and some assistants (Justin Bartha, Gigli and Diane Kruger, Troy) found a bunch of treasure. National treasure. Hence the title. Over the course of the first film, Benjamin worked out relationship problems with his father (Jon Voight, Transformers), defeated a bad guy (Sean Bean, Patriot Games), and kept slipping through the fingers of an FBI Agent (Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant). It was a cheesy movie, but also a modestly entertaining one that delivered more or less what fans of Jerry Bruckheimer productions have come to expect. This time around, the situation is exactly the same, except the bad guy is played by Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind), Benjamin's mother (Helen Mirren, The Queen) is added into the plot, and some of the terrible historical information is different.
More than any other film in recent memory, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets relies on a lot of ridiculous contrivance to bring about equally ridiculous results. It's the kind of film so bewilderingly unintelligent that it almost makes you feel embarrassed for the filmmakers. The trouble starts when a southern troublemaker (Harris) unearths a page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth. The page is a list of names that includes the name of Benjamin's great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Gates. This obviously means that Thomas Gates murdered Abraham Lincoln. Some bad family history to be sure, but in this movie, it is the worst piece of information possible. That is because everyone who is anyone in this movie seems to worship Abraham Lincoln…I wouldn't have been surprised if a scene of Benjamin saying a bedtime prayer to Honest Abe had been included. So, Benjamin and his father determine to clear their family name.
In order to do this, they need to do all kinds of interesting things like break into Buckingham Palace and The Oval Office. In these and other equally inaccessible places they find all kinds of cutesy clues that tell them where to go next. I have no idea who is leaving this clues or why they left them, but they are there, just waiting to be figured out by some wannabe Sherlock Holmes. Apparently every single historical artifact on the face of the earth is only there to serve as clever little stepping stones for the likes of Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and good old Ben Gates. The gang figures a few things out, but they need more. Somehow they discover that the clue they need is contained within a "book of secrets" that is kept by the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood, Capote). The book is written "by Presidents, for Presidents," and includes all kinds of info like who killed JFK, the truth about Area 51, and what was contained on those missing minutes of the Nixon tapes. Knowing what we do about Nixon, I kind of doubt that he would have been honorable enough to include such information inside a book of secrets for Gerald Ford and other Presidents to read, but never mind.
In order to view the book, Benjamin determines to kidnap the President. He accomplishes this by luring the President into a cool, secret underground tunnel at Mount Vernon, where the President just so happens to be celebrating his birthday party. How does Benjamin know about the underground tunnel? Um, he has a map that was hand-drawn by George Washington. Yeah. So, he locks the President in an underground tunnel, pleasantly asks for the location of the book of secrets, and shares a few tender thoughts about Abraham Lincoln before parting on cheerfully friendly terms. The FBI doesn't care how friendly the meeting was, they're trying to hunt Gates down, quite understandably.
Once we figure out that Mount Rushmore was just a cover-up for a super-awesome lost city of gold, we move on to an overlong climax that feels like a very pale imitation of the climax from the original film. In fact, the whole movie feels like a pale imitation of the original, which felt like a pale imitation of an Indiana Jones film itself. Even the cast seems less convinced by the material this time around. Voight and Mirren have a few nice moments together, and Justin Bartha actually seems to be enjoying himself, but most of the cast just seems uninterested. Do you remember the relationship between Cage and Kruger in the first film? They had become a couple by the end of that film, but when this one opens, they have split up. Why? So that they can fight and argue and moan at each other and then finally provide yet another romantic hook-up at the end of this movie. Also, Harris is particularly weak, allowing a cornball southern accent to fade in and out at his leisure.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even if the film is one of Jerry Bruckheimer's worst blockbusters, you can't fault Disney for the effort that went into the Blu-ray presentation. The film looks terrific in hi-def; all the remarkable locations and expensive sets really shine. Darker colors are occasionally just a little bit weak, but fortunately this is most a very bright and colorful film. The sound mix is even better, a somewhat aggressive mix spotlighting a Trevor Rabin score that flexes its muscles at every opportunity. Some of the action sequences (especially the London car chase) really sparkle, too.
I was also very impressed by the array of special features included here. First off, we get a commentary from director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight. There's some interesting discussion about the film's creation here, and Voight has amusingly managed to convince himself that "this is really an exceptionally smart and clever film." Next up is a Blu-Ray exclusive, an interactive trivia track that helps rectify the horrible history in the film. Viewers are asked questions about whether something is fact or fiction, and they also have the option to click on all kinds of pop-ups to learn trivia, watch videos, hear historical facts, etc. This is a great feature for a lot of kids between the ages of 8-14 (which represent a large part of this movie's core audience).
Next up are a total of seven deleted scenes, each with an introduction from Turteltaub. Interestingly, two of these scenes are Blu-Ray exclusives. I don't know which two, but unlike the trivia track, this Blu-ray exclusive seems to be a slap in the face to those who buy the DVD version. Anyway, the best scene here is a nine-minute sequence that was clipped entirely from the film. Combined, all the deleted scenes run about twenty minutes. There are also five minutes of outtakes and gags, featuring everyone laughing at nothing in particular. Finally, a series of several featurettes (which run just over one hour combined) are actually quite engaging. This is primarily because they tend to focus on location and set design (quite interesting) rather than characters and story (not interesting). Traditionally, I prefer these things to be the other way around, but whoever produced this disc wisely realized that sticking with the technical merits of the movie was a good idea.
Ultimately, it's simply impossible to give a crap about what goes on in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets because the movie refuses to play by any rules whatsoever. History and logic are out the window, whatever clues are figured out are only done so in some terribly contrived way because the screenwriters want to get from point A to point B in as sensational a manner as possible, no matter how much they have to sacrifice their credibility in order to do so. The movie really started to get under my skin after a while, as my patience for the film's patented brand of clueless history and plot stupidity began to wear out. I wish I could close this review by saying this is the dumbest film I've seen in the past year, but for me to do so would be as dishonest as this movie is. These things happen on a regular basis, and I have no doubt we'll see a couple blockbusters with just as little intelligence this year. That said, if you're a fan of the film, by all means check out this Blu-Ray disc…it's a very solid treatment of a pretty crummy film.
As guilty as John Wilkes Booth.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight
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