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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Another Fun Treasure Hunt
by Betty Jo Tucker

Abraham Lincoln’s assassination triggers the events taking place in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, a fast-paced sequel which should appeal to adventure fans of all ages. Happily, the major parties from the popular first movie return, and two new intriguing characters -- played by Helen Mirren and Ed Harris -- join the exciting hunt for a treasure that just might clear a falsely accused man.  

This time, Nicolas Cage fits even more snugly into the role of Ben Gates, the world’s most famous treasure hunter -- or “treasure protector,” as Ben prefers being called. Cage obviously enjoys portraying Ben, probably because this man is definitely NOT a one-note hero. “Ben is an extreme square in that he doesn’t drink or smoke and sees things very clearly in terms of what is right and isn’t right,” Cage says. “The paradox is that he’s a criminal of sorts, but in a good way.”

Ben’s criminality in the original National Treasure movie involved stealing the Declaration of Independence (for the treasure map hidden on the back of this historic document). However, he tops that in Book of Secrets  with his plans to kidnap (?) the President of the United States and break into Buckingham Palace. Drastic actions indeed, but Ben’s goal is to prove the innocence of his ancestor, Thomas Gates, who’s been accused of being a co-conspirator in President Lincoln’s assassination.

Helping Ben with this mission are: his amusing techie pal Riley Poole (Justin Bartha); his sexy ex-girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), an American History archivist; his quick-tempered father, Professor Patrick Gates (Jon Voight); and his out-spoken mother, Dr. Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), who’s an expert in linguistics. To complicate matters, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), the man making the accusation against Thomas Gates, follows our hero’s every move. Clearly, the sinister Wilkinson has an agenda of his own, and Harris succeeds quite well in projecting the kind of evil we expect from bad guys in movies like this.

Mirren and Voight provide much of the fun in Book of Secrets as their characters bicker constantly about who’s responsible for their divorce and longtime estrangement. These two outstanding actors know how important it is to re-act to others, not simply say their lines. I’d love to see them play opposite each other in the starring roles of a film: clearly, this pair could be great together in either a drama or a comedy. (You can’t blame a movie fan for dreaming.)

Another highlight of this sequel comes toward the end of the film -- and, thanks to production designer Dominic Watkins, it’s a stunner! When our treasure hunters enter a cavern below Mount Rushmore, one of their obstacles involves balancing themselves on a huge platform -- “the seesaw from Hell,” according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer -- and if they don’t work together as a team, it’s curtains for everyone, even the villain. I couldn’t help holding my breath while watching this suspenseful set piece.

Book of Secrets, directed by Jon Turteltaub, falters in only two of its action efforts: a car-chase that goes on so long you feel like you’re at a race track instead of in the multiplex, and a drowning sequence so confusing it’s difficult to tell what actually happened. Better editing in both cases would’ve helped considerably. Still, everything else works for me, and I’m happy to recommend this sequel, especially to viewers who enjoy escapist entertainment. And, hey, who knows? Book of Secrets might motivate some youngsters to take a greater interest in American history, even if they simply want to discover what’s true and/or false in the National Treasure films.

Among the many impressive DVD bonus items, "Secrets of a Sequel" and "Inside the Library of Congress" stand out. In the former, director Jon Turteltaub, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and members of the cast and crew share their reactions about making this worthy follow-up to the original film. In the latter, viewers receive an enlightening tour of our nation's most important library -- and it's awesome! Other bonus features are: audio commentary by Turtelbaub and Voight; deleted scenes; outtakes and bloopers; inside information about location shoots, London landmarks, sets, visual effects, stunts, the Knights of the Golden Circle, and crafting The Book of Secrets.        

(Released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Pictures and rated “PG” for some violence and action. Bonus material not rated.)

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