My Buddy is a Cage – ‘National Treasure’ (2004)

Lo! How quickly the sands of Father Time’s hourglass seem to slip by us, gently tumbling from one end to the other. Alas, centuries of history have passed us by in a blink of thine eye! One tearful, lonely eye! This isn’t some terrible introduction to Jon Turtletaub’s National Treasure. I am referring to the last time I got around to doing one of these; since nobody’s really keeping track, it’s been weeks. Weeks, I tell thee!

Along with The Weather Man, this shares the distinction of my having already seen it in theaters. Then again on a bus ride. And also on TV. And maybe it’s the infinite cynicism this blog seems to channel, but I really expected to tear a Disney live action film apart (one starring ham sandwich Nic Cage, no less). Alas, I am unable. National Treasure is absolutely ridiculous and absolutely entertaining. Lo!

Cage stars as Benjamin Gates, part-time historian full-time conspiracy theorist. Having seen this four times now, I don’t actually believe Gates has any profession outside of treasure hunter… Hey, history is cool, though. It isn’t difficult to tell this was greenlit during the rise of Da Vinci Code fiction, and the attention to details is everywhere. Did you know the Centennial Bell replaced the Liberty Bell in Philly? What’s the clock of Independence Hall  read on the back of the 100 dollar bill? That Ben Franklin first suggested Daylight Savings Time??? The tidbits are as fascinating as they are trivial. Less captivating is the fabled Knights Templar treasure, passed down over hundreds of years to the Founding Fathers, who promptly hid mounds of riches for Nicolas Cage to one day discover and donate to the Smithsonian. No worries if any of that was hard to swallow because every character is here to remind you of The Treasure. We’ve found the Treasure. It’s a capital T Treasure, too. One of those ill-defined, ubiquitous Treasures. I’d have preferred Michael Caine as Cage’s estranged father over Jon Voigt, and yes, complete with an inexplicable Cockney accent. TREASAH.

Cage’s acting is a moderate blah, with all the panache and zest of tap water. Gates’ only interesting character trait, his appearance, was likely added by the Elvis-obsessed Cage himself, given his pompadour, groomed sideburns and and open-collared shirts. Gates’ personality is part cardboard, part history lecture. When Ben Gates and geeky comic relief Riley Poole first gaze upon the Declaration of Independence (read: secret TREASAH map), the script affords Cage no chance to be anything other than a breathy enthusiast, mumbling lines that might as well be textbook quotes.

If National Treasure undeniably succeeds at one thing it’s in Disney’s engineering to mass appeal. The slick photography, by-the-numbers editing, even Cage and his inevitable wooing of Diane Kruger’s Dr. Abigail Chase, it’s all here. If Michael Bay were in contractual obligation to the Mouse House, he’d probably make something akin to this — a Mission: Impossible meets mid-life crisis Indy.

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Want more Cage? You got it.

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