“National Treasure” (Touchstone) tells the story of treasure hunter Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage). For generations, his family has searched for an elusive fortune, amassed over the course of centuries, last known to be in the hands of America’s founding fathers. When the latest clue in the worldwide trail indicates the Declaration of Independence as a major piece of the puzzle, Gates and his partner Riley (Justin Bartha) have no choice but to steal the sacred document from the National Archives. But even that is not as easy as it sounds. Now on the run from nemesis treasure hunter Ian Howe (Sean Bean) and the FBI, Gates, with the help of an Archives administrator (Diane Kruger), must find the treasure’s hiding place before being sent to jail, or perhaps even worse.
Despite trite promotions, the film is exciting, fast-paced, and humorous. Cage’s performance rivals that of any other adventure hero in recent memory, while Justin Bartha delivers his sidekick jokes with proficient timing and likeability. Bean gives the film’s standout performance as the menacing Howe, who will do anything to keep Gates out of his way. He’s a focused and resourceful villain that never becomes unnecessarily violent, yet remains a worthy opponent in every way.
The story is tightly wound, focusing more on the deciphering of the clues than loud action scenes. While there are a handful of moderately sized stunt sequences, the film’s taut premise hinges on the conflict between Gates and Howe, as it becomes more intense with each new clue. In the end, the film is one of the most ultimately satisfying (yet still PG) adventure flicks in years.
“National Treasure” opens in Washington, D.C. on Friday.