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</script></div>{/googleAds}Film and television über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer may be many things, but a dummy is not one of them. It's not by appeasing snobby, art-house critics that you exceed a staggering $14 billion in box-office receipts worldwide; no, it's by releasing such action-packed blockbusters as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, The Rock, Armageddon, and now, National Treasure - movies that appeal solely to the entertainment-hungry masses - that ensures a sweet retirement. And with everything he touches turning to box-office gold twice and thrice over, he also knows the power of a franchise - particularly a family-friendly, Disney franchise.

Even before the original National Treasure opened to rather lukewarm reviews, Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub discounted talk of a sequel to Walt Disney's code-cracking, history chasing, adventure film. But after amassing an international (and rather surprising) fortune of $350 million, suddenly â"Mr. Blockbuster" was seeing green, in more ways than one. So in 2005, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets was a â"go," and the Gates clan - fresh from finding the Knights Templar's treasure beneath the streets of Manhattan - was back in action. Only this time, the desperately needed clues would not be found on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but instead, in the missing pages of John Wilkes Booth's personal diary.

Like its predecessor, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets begins in our nation's Capitol, where an integral part of the Gates family lore is revealed. Through a modern day presentation on Civil War heroes, historian-turned-treasure hunter, Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage), tells the story of how on the evening of President Lincoln's assassination, his great-great grandfather, Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch), was confronted by two men seeking his aid in breaking a written code. Unbeknownst to Thomas, one of the men was John Wilkes Booth - the soon-to-be presidential assassin - and the other, a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) - a Confederate extremist organization whose sole mission was to subvert Union forces.

In translating the cipher, Thomas noticed that not only did the clues lead to the mythical treasure of Cibola, but that the man sitting before him wore a lapel pin bearing the KGC seal. Realizing the danger of such treasure in Confederate hands, Thomas completed the puzzle, tore the pages from Booth's diary, and threw them into a neighboring fire. While the Confederate lunged into the flames, retrieving a portion of the pages therefrom, he ensured that Thomas would face the same fate as the nation's President that evening. Undoubtedly a senseless loss to the Gates family, but an act of bravery and national honor that ultimately saved the Union from being overthrown.

However, at the close of Benjamin's presentation, the crowd's roaring applause is harshly interrupted by Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), a Southern anti-gentleman and descendant of a Confederate general, who publicly declares that the missing pages from Booth's diary tell another story entirely - one which strips Thomas Gates of his heroism and implicates him as a co-conspirator in the assassination of President Lincoln. Although Benjamin and his father, Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), naturally rebuff the man for his preposterous allegations, when Wilkinson pulls the missing and authenticated pages from his keep, the Gates family legacy is, again, called into question.

Desperate to prove his great-great grandfather's innocence and determined to restore his family's good name, Benjamin and Co. embark on another historical quest that will take them from D.C. to Paris, Buckingham Palace to the Oval Office, and after kidnapping the President (Bruce Greenwood) at Mt. Vernon, finally to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where mysteries and treasures of the past are revealed in the most unlikely, and most obvious, of places and faces.

Truth be told, despite its implausible action sequences, silly dialogue, overt cheesiness, and over-the-top character qualities, I actually enjoyed the original National Treasure. Providing that you check your brain at the Library of Congress, Cage's inaugural quest offers kids of all ages simple, fun, popcorn fare that combines the intriguing elements of American history (albeit not always accurate) and Indiana Jones-esque, adventure-style treasure hunting. Pure escapist entertainment for the entire puzzle-probing family.

That being said, the highly anticipated sequel, while venturing off American shores this go-round, brings no new breath to the chase. Instead, Book of Secrets blatantly plagiarizes its treasured predecessor, rehashing the same character quirks, regurgitating the same mildly-funny jokes, rebounding the same soured romance, and recycling so many scenes (including an almost identical climax!) that you begin to suffer from National Treasure déjà vu.

Lack of originality aside, even though such adventure flicks require a certain amount of suspended belief, Book of Secrets starts out sharp, but then takes a ridiculous landslide. Granted, Gates is a smug genius who spews historical tidbits with reckless abandon, but this guy is a too farfetched Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to code-breaking. Not to mention, he just so happens to possess George Washington's hand-drawn plans to secret tunnels lurking beneath Mt. Vernon, can infiltrate the FBI and Secret Service without detection, gains access to the Oval Office and Queen's palace, rummages through their respective desks for clues, repeatedly evades federal prosecution, AND not only lures the President of the United States away from his own birthday bash locking him in one of the aforementioned tunnels, but actually gets the Commander in Chief to spill the beans on the mythological President's Book of Secrets. Passed down among the presidents, this Book - which every president must deny exists - corroborates the conspiracy theories that have plagued the United States for generations (i.e., Area 51, the Apollo moon landing, the JFK assassination). Gates, however, is permitted access - on the down low, of course - and oh yeah, the President needs help figuring out what's on page 47 while you're at it, Gates. (Can you smell what NT3 is cooking?) No wonder this guy is so darn cocky.

Helping Gates along the way are techie pal and resident-comedian, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha); ex-girlfriend and document specialist, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger); FBI Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel); Benjamin's treasure-hunting father (Voight); Benjamin's Mother, Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), who conveniently serves as a Professor of Linguistics; and the villain with a conscience, Wilkinson (Harris). With such a phenomenal amount of talent at their disposal - Cage, Voight, Mirren, Harris, Keitel, Greenwood - it is hard to ascertain why the screenwriters (collectively knows as The Webberlys) and Turteltaub chose to tie their hands with tidied, one-dimensional and uninteresting characters whom after spanning the globe, conveniently find not only treasure, but love and recognition among the ruins . . . again. An extraordinary cast, unfortunately wasted.

On the other hand, what does make Book of Secrets as appealing as its cast is that above all, it is a film that the whole family can enjoy . . . together. Rated PG, it plays like a brain-teasing video game tailored for the tween demographic, sparking adventure, imagination, historical interest and a profound sense of familial strength. The international locations, action sequences, and technical gadgets are cool (watch for some very interesting desk mechanisms!), but unlike other high-stakes adventure films, Benjamin Gates refreshingly seeks something much more valuable than fame and fortune: the preservation of family. In an otherwise carbon-copied version of the first installment, that is the one National Treasure plot-device well worth repeating.

But for most adults, that just won't be enough. Although a jet-setting, escapist, Dan Brown-on-Disney adventure for the fam, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets still fails to capture any of the edge-of-your-seat, suspense-driven action craved by the Indy-inspired armchair treasure hunters. The labyrinths of logic and lore are fascinating, and the American-grounded mysteries are undoubtedly engaging, but the leaping plot - that borrows far too much from its predecessor to be taken seriously as a fresh chapter in the Gates family legacy - serves only to bury its worthy cast of treasure-chasing characters. Two words: fool's gold.


DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 2.35:1

Subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), French and Spanish

Language and Sound: English: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; bloopers; outtakes.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with director John Turteltaub and Jon Voight.
* Featurettes
o Secrets of a Sequel
o The Book of Secrets On Location
o The Treasure Reel: Bloopers & Outtakes
o Street Stunts: Creating The London Chase
o Underground Action
o Evolution of a Golden City
o Knights of the Golden Circle
o Cover Story: Crafting the President's Book
o Inside the Library of Congress
* Deleted Scenes - 14 minutes worth of scenes that didn't make the final cut
* Previews
* Disney Promo Reel

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging