Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
Nicolas Cage has starred in some memorable films, such as World Trade Center, Adaptation, Bringing Out the Dead (my favorite of these), and Leaving Los Vegas. And then there is National Treasure and its clone NT: Book of Secrets. I write “clone” because this new film is just a re-write of the first NT film, with Cage’s Benjamin Franklin Gates solving a new series of puzzles and coded messages that lead to a vast city of gold lying under one of America’s largest monuments. Gates figures out codes and languages seemingly so effortlessly that if this guy had been around during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign, the world would not have needed to await the Rosetta Stone to decipher hieroglyphics!
The film boasts a cast of terrific actors—Bruce Greenwood, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight—even Helen Mirren—all of whom must have accepted their roles either for the money or the fun. “Fun” because the film, with its spectacular special effects is fun to watch. As it re-writes American history—Lincoln was not assassinated by John Wilkes Boothe for political but for monetary reasons—we follow the merry antics of the band of seekers, pursued of course by a nemesis who also wants the secret of the missing page from Booth’s diary and the accumulated secrets in a book that each U.S. president since General Grant turns over to his successor for safekeeping.
This Secret Book includes answers to such mysteries as details of the moon landings (real or not?), the missing 18 minutes from the Nixon tapes, and the truth about JFK’s assassination. The fun lasts until you start realizing how many absurdities there are in the plot, and how sad it is that such a fine cast should stoop to make such a pot boiler. (But then there are gazillions of bucks to make on such a thriller, and their fees will enable them to make the better films that do not attract the audiences who go to theaters mainly for escape.) My advice is to catch this at a cheap seat theater or, better yet, wait till it appears on cable or TV. No, don’t waste your money even on a DVD rental.