Obsessed with a legend detailing a massive amount of buried treasure that was hidden by the founding fathers of the United States 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) has spent his adulthood chasing the clues to finding the loot all around the globe. The greatest challenge facing Gates is the final piece of the puzzle: a secret map located on the back of the Declaration of Independence. With help from his tech geek partner (Justin Bartha, the infamous Brian from "Gigli," and excruciatingly unfunny), and a reluctant government drone (Diane Kruger, "Troy"), Gates steals the famed document and sets off to solve the mystery, trying to keep one step ahead of his rival (Sean Bean) and an FBI agent on his trail (Harvey Keitel).
Apparently, producer Jerry Bruckheimer couldn't stand the success of Dan Brown's bestseller, "The Da Vinci Code," and so he decided to make his own version with "National Treasure" (IMDb listing). As fans wait for "Da Vinci" to hit screens in 2006, "Treasure" just might be the right type of diversion. For everybody else, this treasure hunting adventure is like traveling over the tallest mountains, diving into the deepest seas, and risking your neck at every turn only to find the gold coins at the end of the hunt have chocolate in them.
Why Bruckheimer hired filmmaker Jon Turteltaub is the mystery. As vanilla a filmmaker as they make 'em, Turteltaub's filmography, which includes creative duds like "The Kid," "Instinct," and "Phenomenon," doesn't exactly inspire confidence. It's no shock that Turteltaub comes to "Treasure" without any fresh ideas for the myriad stunts and action set pieces. With "Treasure," it looks like Turteltaub went to Jerry Bruckheimer University -- pointless usage of slo-mo, questionable choices in casting (the production should be slapped silly for putting Bartha in charge of the laughs), and just about every technical choice, including Trevor Rabin's traditional, soulless Bruckheimery score.
"Treasure" is based on a good idea -- mix "The Goonies" with 9th grade history -- and for 90 minutes, Turteltaub had me with his elaborate historical choreography, which has the cast running around Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia dodging bullets and deciphering codes. Turteltaub pitches the adventure at a nice, reasonable level; nothing is too taxing or electrifying, but it's not offensive, either. However, the film stays long past its welcome, clocking in at 130 grueling minutes. Turteltaub runs out of inspiration, and the film dies when it leaves the streets and heads underground for a rather anticlimactic "Indiana Jones"-style climax.
Since "Treasure" is presented as a family-friendly, PG experience (nothing wrong with that at all), the violence and adult tomfoolery have been jettisoned. Also cast off is Nicolas Cage's playful spirit, which has been removed for your protection. Cage, who turned Bruckheimer's unbearable "The Rock" into something resembling a decent time, is saddled with the hero role in "Treasure." He simply refuses to do anything with it. There are two fleeting glimpses of the old crazy Cage trying to make the lackluster script interesting, but that's all we get. In the rest of the film, Cage plays solemnly and blandly, which doesn't seem possible with this actor, but here we are. Cage has nothing to work with, what with Sean Bean sleepwalking as the villain, and Diane Kruger acting with far too much vacancy to be a legitimate love interest. Cage's performance, which should have lifted "National Treasure" off its feet, buries this adventure deeper than the film's hidden treasure.
Filmfodder Grade: C