The Da Vinci Clone

Touchstone Pictures/

Diane Kruger and Nic Cage partake in a bit of by-the-book action.

Salt Lake City Weekly | November 11, 2004
Man, is Ron Howard gonna be pissed when he sees this movie.

Howard, you see, is currently set to direct the adaptation of Dan Brown’s megabestseller The Da Vinci Code. So you’d forgive him if he spit out his coffee—-and an expletive or three—-upon discovering that his story of rival factions attempting to solve a world-changing historical mystery involving encrypted clues, Knights Templar and Freemasons has been preceded by National Treasure, in which rival factions attempt to solve a different world-changing historical mystery involving encrypted clues, Knights Templar and Freemasons. Paging Dan Brown’s attorneys.

There’s a good reason, of course, for anyone to want to duplicate Brown’s formula, and it has nothing to do with his controversial theological thesis. The Da Vinci Code was a punchy, plot-heavy page-turner with lots of little individual problems to solve on the way to the Big Finish. It was the print version of a high-concept video game, only without actually forcing the reader to do any of the thinking required to get on to the next task.

National Treasure wisely takes the same approach, turning its narrative into beaded set pieces with actors gamely coming along for the ride. That’s a style all too familiar to producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who pulls along his favorite quirky leading man, Nicolas Cage (The Rock, Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds), to turn this kernel into a fluffy piece of popcorn.

Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, heir to a multi-generation family obsession with a massive treasure cache believed to have been hidden during the Revolutionary War. With the help of financier Ian Howe (The Fellowship of the Rings’ Boromir, Sean Bean), Gates is closer than he has ever been to finding the key to the treasure—only Howe is actually prepared to double-cross Gates, which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s played by Sean Bean.

Aided by his techie nerdkick Riley (Justin Bartha), Gates then must get to a crucial piece of the puzzle—-a map believed to be hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence—-before Howe does. And just so no one thinks Gates is gay, the National Archives antiquities expert who ends up assisting his efforts will be a hot babe (Diane Kruger).

Despite the mountains of historical trivia tossed around by the characters during their quest, National Treasure is still fundamentally dumb moviemaking, in much the same way that The Da Vinci code is fundamentally dumb literature. We are, after all, dealing with a script from Jim Kouf and Cormac & Marianne Wibberly, whose proudest credits include Snow Dogs, I Spy and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. No one is going to overestimate the subtlety of a film in which it is deemed essential, when Gates sees his dad (Jon Voight) in a dangerous situation, for Gates to actually gasp the word, “Dad!”

Still, National Treasure proves dumb in that way where you still kind of enjoy yourself, even if you feel vaguely guilty about it. Director Jon Turtletaub—-better known for more mild-mannered fare like Phenomenon and While You Were Sleeping—-keeps things rocketing along, never pausing long enough for the head-scratching to begin. Goofy, satisfying one-liners pop up with surprising frequency. Every character may be a pencil sketch, but each one serves its function ably, with Cage supplying the punch of energy whenever things start to sag.

The key point, though, may be that people just groove to the idea of a good old-fashioned treasure hunt—-especially when it’s propped up with an aura of Historical Significance, so that chomping on the brain candy can actually feel like mental exercise. National Security wraps up silly adventure in the kind of package that’s attracting big audiences. Which probably means that they’ll enjoy it again when Ron Howard serves up the same recipe to them next year.

Salt Lake City Weekly

Having carved a large niche of young, affluent, and educated Utahns, Salt Lake City Weekly is regarded as a welcome, independent voice in an area that truly needs one. More than 1,600 outlets distribute Salt Lake City Weekly in the...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 248 South Main, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
  • Phone: (801) 575-7003