When we first meet Cage’s Gates, he is living with his historian father (Jon Voight), having been kicked out of the unfeasible mansion he shared with girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger). When slit-eyed Southern treasure hunter Wilkinson (Ed Harris) delivers seemingly incontrovertible proof that a Gates was involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Ben and Dad spring to defend their ancestral honour by assiduously following a trail of bewildering clues around the sight-seeing spots of Paris and London, before pitching up back in Washington, kidnapping the President (Bruce Greenwood) for his secret book and following more clues that lead to a Lost City of Gold beneath the carved monument.
Without a moment of genuine wit or a pause for breath, the film immediately descends to the level of a chase, or rather a gallop, through history and over intellect. Cage contains his inner ham adequately enough for the film’s few quiet moments, but eventually unleashes himself during a bug-eyed rant on a stairs inside Buckingham Palace, where a vital clue has been hidden in the furniture. He jigs his way through the rest of the story, flailing his arms and laughing maniacally, casually embracing self-parody. In comparison, Voight and Kruger are models of restraint, existing only to offer supporting moments of well-heralded a-ha! Justin Bartha returns with a mandate to deliver intentional comic relief in the form of pratfalls and come-uppances, while Helen Mirren pops up later as Gates’ estranged mother to offer assistance in her capacity as a handy expert on Incan carving. Pushed even further into the background is Harvey Keitel as FBI Agent Sadusky, who misses umpteen opportunities to put a deserving bullet through Cage and let us all go home.
Screenwriting team Cormac and Marianne Wibberley appear to have concocted their script by arranging a series of high-tempo chases, joining them with clunky scenes enabled by squinting at hieroglyphics or clicking on shiny technologies and then vaguely wafting a history book somewhere nearby. It doesn’t help that their inevitable sequel is essentially the same film as its predecessor but with new locations and extra helpings of hysterics. Returning director Jon Turteltaub executes a procession of by-the-numbers set-pieces with the same bare minimum of originality or style. With a running time that whistles past two hours and a storyline that defeats even the most careful attention, there is far too much of National Treasure, especially considering it runs completely flat in the last half hour. I stuck it out to the end but never discovered why the ancient Incans buried their loot under the very distant Mt Rushmore, an arduous hike when encumbered by tons of gold but a stroll on the beach in comparison to watching this.