Odd casting and unimaginative direction make Disney's National Treasure a painful exercise in mediocrity. Toss in a slice of the conspiracy-minded bestseller The DaVinci Codeand one of the most bombastic scores of the year and you've got a recipe for cinematic malaise that leaves your head aching from all the improbabilities that clutter the exposition-heavy storyline at every hairpin turn.
The film opens with a recounting, by sage patriarch Christopher Plummer, of the Gates family history, to which young Benjamin Franklin Gates belongs. The Gates' progeny have been searching for generations for a multibillion-dollar treasure that went missing just after the American Revolution, when its then-guardians, the Founding Fathers, hid it from the British. The search has been a thorn in the Gates family side since time immemorial and has led to the family name becoming synonymous with mild lunacy. And as soon as little B.F. Gates can grow up into the nerdish, know-it-all Nicolas Cage, the race for the treasure is on again.
Turns out there's a series of clues on the back of the Declaration of Independence, and so, naturally, Gates must steal and save the famed document from the National Archives before it's stolen and destroyed by his former treasure-hunting partner (Sean Bean). From this point on the film devolves into a series of cryptic action scenes set against the backdrop of various Washington, D.C., monuments, as well as the North Pole and a lair beneath the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway.
For all its national-history glee (Cage routinely dispenses nuggets of historical wisdom like he's spitting watermelon seeds), National Treasure is an underdone pastiche of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a really tedious high school history class.