“Are you saying there’s a treasure map in the Statue Of Liberty?” gasps one character in National Treasure: Book Of Secrets. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” Hang on... Jon Turteltaub’s sequel to his 2004 Indy wannabe – a kind of Da Vinci Code for dummies – is just getting started. By the time this typically bombastic Jerry Bruckheimer offering is over, fortune seeker Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) will have found hidden relics at Buckingham Palace, explosive diaries inside the Library Of Congress and a pre-Columbian temple underneath Mount Rushmore. Oh, and he’ll also have kidnapped the President (Bruce Greenwood, surely suffering déjà vu after playing John F Kennedy in Thirteen Days) and enlisted his dear old mum (Helen Mirren, no less) in the quest. Phew!
It’s all balls of course, though scripters Cormac and Marianne Wibberley (back from the first Treasure) ensure there’s just enough historical veracity to make the baloney palatable. The film kicks off with a recreation of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination – a heinous act that Ben’s dad (Jon Voight), to his horror, discovers his ancestor may have been implicated in – and incorporates various titbits of trivia about Mount Vernon, Lady Liberty and the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk. Did you know the origin of the phrase “his name is mud”, for example? You’ll find out. And you’ll also discover a way of using a London traffic camera to record a vital piece of evidence while involved in a car chase. It’s that kind of movie.
The result is a breezier, more entertaining affair than the flat-footed original, despite another static turn from Diane Kruger (Ben’s estranged girlfriend Abigail) that makes those Rushmore faces look positively animated. (It’s rather unfortunate, under the circumstances, that the plot involves the recovery of a wooden plank…) Some might find Justin Bartha equally disposable as the type of wisecracking nerd who can break into any security system, yet who can’t say a single line without smirking (“Oh, look – my tax dollars are coming to arrest me!”). Nor are we particularly intrigued by the villain, a bad guy with honourable aims whom Ed Harris plays as a carbon copy of his noble terrorist from The Rock (“I’m just a man trying to make his mark on history!” he self-justifies).
Despite all this – plus Cage’s latest ghastly ’do, a Tom Hanks-style mullet – things rattle along at enough of a lick to excuse the plot holes (how precisely will locating a city of gold clear the Gates’ family name?) or a bizarre Anglo- American accent from Dame Helen that, like her character, journeys all the way to the Black Hills of South Dakota and back again.
Zippier than the first one, if no less preposterous, Book Of Secrets is the very definition of slick, family-sized escapism. Suspend your disbelief and enjoyment will ensue. Another instalment might be pushing it, though...