‘National Treasure’ silly but entertaining

By Gus Bode

Starring:Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Harvey Keitel, Sean Bean

Running time:2 hours, 25 minutes

2 1/2 Gus heads

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A fine line exists between good movies and bad movies.

“National Treasure” just barely knows which side to stay on.

It is a movie doing a terribly dangerous tightrope act, a cinematic risk that producer Jerry Bruckheimer has turned into a genre. Sometimes, he falls to a bloody death below (“Pearl Harbor”). Sometimes, he teeters back forth just enough to keep his balance for two hours (“King Arthur”). Every great once in a while, he gets the hit he was looking for (“Pirates of the Caribbean”).

While “National Treasure” doesn’t splatter on the ground below, it certainly has a few close moments from time to time. That the film survives as passable entertainment in the end is a feat attributable to its rather fun concept – hunting for a treasure hidden by our Founding Fathers – and it doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

And although “National Treasure” veers on being a perfunctory effort, it has enough guts in it to keep your attention, sometimes pretty rapt attention, for more than two hours. It is a film that makes no broader contributions to its art and treats its characters like devices instead of people, but that makes it all the more amazing for not being terrible.

The story, if you would like to call it that, goes no further than any preview for the film you may have seen. Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is the latest generation in a family that has long held a secret. The secret, hidden in clues on the back of dollar bills and on our national landmarks, is that of a treasure that the signers of the Declaration of Independence hid long ago. And for some reason, Gates decides he is the one who must find it.

As it turns out, a map is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence, and Gates steals the map only because he knows a former colleague, Ian (Sean Bean), wants to steal it even worse than he does. Along the way, Gates picks up a doctor at the National Archives, Abigail (Diane Kruger), and the standard computer geek. Together, they sort out the clues that lead them to the treasure. Along the way, they are only a step ahead of both Ian’s team and an FBI agent (Harvey Keitel).

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There are no surprises in the end, and the treasure itself is a bit of an anti-climactic disappointment. There is nothing particularly amazing about what gets found, and the discovery is a microcosm of the laziness that pervades the entire film. “National Treasure,” when it comes down to it, is a film on autopilot that would like to be a big summer film but is, frankly, not good enough.

Amazingly enough, though, director Jon Turteltaub holds things together well enough to produce what is an effective-enough popcorn film. Nothing about “National Treasure” is particularly memorable, and the premise itself could have been done with a little more thought. If nothing else, its old fashioned American entertainment, and that counts for something. Even when it looks like “National Treasure” is about to take a bad dive, it pulls itself back up again. That, too, counts for something.

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