We always get crushed by a wave of big ol’ Hollywood movies in the summer, sure. It’s the ones that come during the “Holiday Season,” though, that hurt. Just when you think it’s safe to go back to the art house cinema, a few of these turkeys trot out just before Thanksgiving and the critic finds himself duty-bound to trudge to the mega-lo-plex for one more dose of explosions, witty one-liners and scowling villains.
This year, the star vehicle’s last road trip turns out to be “National Treasure.” Though it looks vaguely entertaining in trailers, “Treasure” turns out to be a stinker of the worst sort — the kind of barely hung-together piece of claptrap that makes us think that soon after he made “Leaving Las Vegas” Nicolas Cage should have been killed in a tragic, James Dean-style accident for the good of his legacy.
Here, Cage follows up a string of Witty Hero (as opposed to the Trash-Talking Hero and the Strong Silent Hero) roles with a turn as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a historian who has been branded a kook by the academic community. That’s because for almost 200 years, the men of Gates’ family have been engaged in a quest for a fabulous treasure that was buried by the Freemasons, who got it from the Knights Templar, who got it from the basement of King Solomon’s Temple. Somewhere along the way, the Founding Fathers of America got tangled up in all this, and they decided that — instead of drawing up a good, old-fashioned map and stashing it away someplace — they would leave a set of improbable clues, conveniently involving everything their forebears would come to regard as political relics in 200 years.
After years of searching, Gates — along with prerequisite wise-ass sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), and prerequisite British accented villain/turncoat Ian (Sean Bean) — finally succeeds in finding the location of a ship locked in Arctic ice. After finding a secret key (and once the British-accented turncoat actually turns his coat, blowing up the ship’s cargo of gunpowder in a spectacular, credulity-destroying explosion) the race is on to find the other clues, including a map written on the back of the Declaration of Independence, a pair of magic glasses to read it with in Centennial Hall, and a secret barcode reader hidden in George Washington’s wooden teeth (I made that last one up, we have to make sure you’re paying attention). Still, even though we live in an Orange Alert world these days, Cage and crew are able to jump velvet ropes with impunity, going so far as to steal the country’s most sacred document with about as much trouble as a kid boosting a candy bar from a Circle K store.
While I usually find at least something to like in any movie, this one is just so much air, one that didn’t even get my blood rushing during the chase scenes. In the end, a ludicrous plot, an overacting leading man, and enough screenwriting leaps of faith to hold a track and field meet add up to make this critic remember why the summer movie season just past is a history I’d rather not revisit.
— By David Koon
n A better movie is the indie film “Around the Bend,” playing now at Market Street Cinema. A road flick about the problems between fathers and sons (and their sons, and their sons) and the way that old wounds can echo down through the generations, “Bend” tries hard to find something new in well-worn territory. While not always succeeding, it is a quirky and touching tale (and it’s got the always-entertaining Christopher Walken).
Here, Michael Caine makes a long cameo as Henry Lair, the dying patriarch of a clan of moody and broken males. Summoning his grandson Jason (Josh Lucas) and great-grandson Zach (Jonah Bono) to his bedside, Henry tells them he wants his death to mean something, and suggests they take a road trip around the Southwest in a ragged-out VW van he’s got squirreled away. Jason refuses, but after Henry’s death, he learns that his grandfather has written just such a stipulation into his will: Jason, Zach and Jason’s long-estranged father, Turner (Christopher Walken), must make a kind of pilgrimage to scatter his ashes a little at a time in the places that meant something to the family, always eating a ritualistic “feast” at a KFC franchise beforehand. If they don’t follow Henry’s wishes to the letter, the will says, they get nothing.
While the plot of forcing characters who hate each other into a confined space and having them come out loving one another is not new, it does work here in a well-trod sort of way. Though Lucas is a bit reserved to carry the lead in such a tightly focused film, Walken is great as always, playing an ex-junkie who left his young family to kick the habit and was too ashamed of his past to come back. He brings a real emotion to the role, and his trademark energy single-handedly saves “Around the Bend” from Hallmark Hall of Fame hell.
While the film struggles to reach some kind of Big Picture idea about maleness and history and what we leave behind when we die, it is really never able to pull it all together. Still, it’s not a bad time at the movies, with several laugh-out-loud scenes, some real emotion and a lot of beautiful desert scenery.
— By David Koon