Big stars having a ball

2008-01-14 00:00

IT’S not every day you see Helen Mirren and Jon Voight swinging on a vine together. Or Nicolas Cage kidnapping the U.S. president. But on Saturday night I did. The National Treasure sequel has one heck of a cast — most of them have won or been nominated for Academy Awards. And while they may not be vying for approval from Oscar here, they are having fun in this breezy caper that makes you think you’re learning something about America.

Cage plays treasure hunter Ben Gates who, along with his professor dad Patrick (Voight), ex-girlfriend (Diane Kruger) and techno geek mate (Justin Bartha), is looking to clear the downtrodden name of his great grandfather and prove grandpa Gates was a patriot. The group’s quest for answers is pushed at high revs thanks to John Wilkes Booth (Harris) and his henchmen, who are out for a bit of history-making of their own.

So off we go. The search involves a dig in the desks of Buckingham Palace and the White House, a car chase in London and a hidden city of gold below the four faces of Mount Rushmore. Like its predecessor, Book of Secrets creates the illusion that it is the condensed version of America’s accumulated mysteries, and pretends to be informative. Well, at least it’s entertaining.

Cage isn’t quite in method acting mode here — sporting an odd haircut — but he’s likeable, even if he does smile creepily at inappropriate moments. Voight and Mirren are quite enjoyable as his bickering parents though, and Harris is on the mark as the menacing fictional character. Then there’s the odd shot of Harvey Keital every so often. It’s stock-standard action adventure filmmaking by Jon Turteltaub, it’s got a bit of Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones with a touch of Ducktales.

In the end the whole thing is pretty silly when you think about it, but it’s a Disney production, and there’s not too much time for thinking. Just buckle up and enjoy.


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