In Hollywood, apparently there’s no such thing as a creative idea. If the book “The Da Vinci Code” were made into a movie, the latest Jerry Bruckheimer extravaganza “National Treasure” would be it. Though far from revolutionary, it manages a fast pace and sufficiently intriguing story to keep this “Treasure” from being buried by its own prodigious unoriginality.

The film’s well-publicized premise posits that the Founding Fathers, whose lineage descended from the Knights Templar and the Freemasons (similar to “The Da Vinci Code”), left an invisible treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, there really is a treasure and yes, it is actually buried in a giant underground cavern in Manhattan’s financial district. It’s easily the most implausible aspect of the whole film, so if audiences have already bought their tickets accepting so much, they shouldn’t have much difficulty believing most of what follows.

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) pursues the family tradition as a “protector” of this treasure, much to the dismay of his cynical father (Jon Voight). Enter Ian Howe (Sean Bean, “Lord of the Rings”), a wealthy, unscrupulous Brit who wants to find the treasure for personal gain. The two part ways after Ian tries to kill Ben and his geeky sidekick (Justin Bartha, “Gigli”). Ben then enlists the obligatory intellectual-hot-girl (Diane Kruger, “Troy”) in his struggle to beat Ian to the treasure in a cleverly connected series of historical clues, very reminiscent of “The Da Vinci Code” again. Character motivations change to suit the particular circumstance, and Ben seems to have an uncanny knack for solving unfathomable riddles in under 10 seconds, but the movie plays better when the audience doesn’t think too much anyway.

To its credit, “Treasure” initially achieves an exciting atmosphere and some hints that it may be more fun than the average “Indiana Jones” knockoff, particularly when executing the theft of the Declaration. Director Jon Turteltaub (“3 Ninjas”) moves the film along briskly. Likewise, the way Ben and company pursue the first few clues while striving to save the Declaration from destruction at the hands of their British nemesis (a high-concept joke that doesn’t really work) manages to keep the audience entertained.

But the film, like Bruckheimer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” clocks in at more than two hours and drags under the weight of too many plot twists. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the divertingly fun performance of Johnny Depp or even the eye candy of the wet and marginally undressed Orlando Bloom to sustain such a running time. It’s asking a bit much of the audience to try to be excited by the fourth time they realize they’ve only found another clue rather than the actual treasure. The film simply runs out of steam long before it runs out of plot.

Helping “Treasure” proceed smoothly are the comedic talents of Bartha. He achieves the near-impossible feat of providing energy and a great deal of humor as the token sidekick, while rarely coming across annoying or unnecessary. Cage, on the other hand, appears to be at least partially asleep through much of the movie. His chemistry with Kruger is nonexistent and the love affair between them feels extraneous.

Perhaps with a more charismatic leading man and a shorter running time, Bruckheimer would have had another improbable gargantuan hit on his hands. Instead, he’s delivered the kind of benignly enjoyable bombastic summer film audiences enjoy in the theater when the air conditioner breaks. If only he knew it was November.

 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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