Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The Decade's Dumbest
Over the past few weeks, numerous bloggers have treated us to their lists of the just-ended decade's best and worst films. I just don't see as many films as I would like to these days, so I don't feel it's proper for me to write a similar list, but I can share my thoughts on what I thought was the dumbest film I saw this past decade. This is a review of National Treasure: Book of Secrets that I wrote in late 2007 after I saw the movie on a flight home from Europe (no, I didn't think I missed that much by not seeing this film in a theater). I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this masterwork!
I’ve just seen National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets and I’m trying to come up with a word that best describes this film. While I don’t ordinarily use the sound bite approach when discussing a movie, I do think one word can sum up this one. Crap would be a good choice as would trash, but that would only give you a partial idea about the depths this movie delves. No, the one word that best describes this work is dumb. How dumb is it? On a dumbness scale of 1-10 with 10 being the dumbest, this rates a 14.
You’ve got to think that a movie that shows the Eiffel Tower and then has an on-screen caption reading, “Paris, France”, is not going after the intelligentsia, but this really is a dumb film, especially the plot. This has something to do with a piece of a letter written by John Wilkes Booth that supposedly links the great-great grandfather of treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) with the murder of Lincoln. As silly a plot device as that is, I could live with that, but of course, this being a puzzle movie with Nicolas Cage (boy, his character sure is smart and fast on his feet!) as the star, the plot has to get more convoluted than that. It seems that our boy Ben thinks that the page contains clues regarding a map that leads to an ancient city of gold. An historical document that links Lincoln’s assassination with the location of another El Dorado? Sounds logical to me.
Finding the clues to this city’s locale is what this movie is all about, so at one point, Ben and his cohorts get to sneak into the Oval Office and crawl in underneath the President’s desk. That’s only part of it, as they do the same in the Queen’s study at Buckingham Palace. Having one of these scenes stretches plausibility, but two? Well, I’m sure the writers of this screenplay thought if we’ve gone this far, why not go all the way, in terms of Scenes That Would Never Happen.
But if you’re really wondering where the dumb part of this movie is (as if that plot wasn’t dumb enough), just wait until you hear some of the lines of dialogue the actors have to speak. This is where this movie earns its high marks for dumbness. For example, near the end of the film, when our heroes have discovered the final paths toward the treasure, Abigail, who is Ben’s ex and perhaps future girlfriend (I won’t give this important detail away), utters these memorable lines:
“It’s a dead end. There’s no way out. We have to turn back.”
Ok, Abigail, we get it!
Then there’s this flashy encounter between Abigail and Riley, a geeky tech expert/author who is a friend of Ben. Riley wrote a book about imaginary truths and superstitions throughout the ages and one of the chapters concerns something called “The President’s Book”, which is supposedly a diary written by the Presidents of the USA (ah, so that’s how they came up with the name!) and hidden somewhere in Washington, D.C. Riley talks to Abigail and Ben about the book at one point and we get the following dialogue:
Abigail: “That’s just an urban legend.”
Riley: “Is it? IS IT?”
But the dumbest line of dialogue – and easily one of the dumbest ever written for film - is a snazzy remark delivered by a security guard at Buckingham Palace (hey, why should the Americans be the only ones that get all the dumb lines?). Riley has worked his technical marvels on the security system at the palace and so when the guard hears the alarm and sees that the security cameras are not quite right, utters:
“Someone – or something – is causing this!”
Sherlock Holmes has nothing on this guy!
I mentioned Nicolas Cage as the star and let’s face it; he’s raking in the dollars for these films. While I am saddened over the direction in which this fine actor has taken his career, it’s his baby and if he wants to keep making these types of movies, let him. I’m more concerned with some of the other actors in this movie.
Like Ed Harris, for one. He’s always played smart, edgy characters and he’s picked his roles thoughtfully. But in this role, he has to deliver some dreadful dialogue and go through the motions like he cares about what’s going on; the trouble is, you can tell he doesn’t. Then there’s Harvey Keitel. I won’t even go into possible reasons why he’s here, but at least his role is small, so his image won’t be too tarnished. As for Jon Voight, well the way his career is going, he’s lucky to get a part these days, so I won’t be too tough on him.
But the most ridiculous casting is that of Helen Mirren. It doesn’t matter what role she is playing – why is she in this mess? Is there a more distinguished actress working in films today? I just can’t imagine why she would even consider this movie. Could she owe one of the filmmakers that big a favor? Certainly if she wanted to have some fun with a role, there must have been other choices she could have made. What’s truly strange about this is this: did the filmmakers really think that by having Helen Mirren appear in this movie that they would get a bigger audience? Apparently so, but you could have put any one of dozens of middle-aged actresses in this role – most of whom probably need to work a lot more than Ms. Mirren – and nothing would have changed. Helen, you’re great, but what were you thinking?
By the time this thing ends, you’ve been subjected to bad writing, bad acting and a lousy musical score. I’d say the editing was bad as well, but I can’t say for sure, as it may be a case of the director not providing enough coverage. For the record, Jon Turtletaub, who directed the original National Treasure, is the individual who oversaw this mess. Given the fact that he also directed such stellar works as Disney’s The Kid, Instinct and 3 Ninjas, I think it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing any Jon Turteltaub retrospectives any time in the near future.
But Turteltaub only has to take part of the blame on this film. The writers, actors and technicians that contributed to this disaster all share equal credit. Remember, none of us is as dumb as all of us!
Rating: One-half star (for inspired dumbness)