Has there ever been a film as simultaneously idiotic and educational as National Treasure? A leaden adventure yarn that pauses between plodding setpieces to admire the courage and ingenuity of the founding fathers or dispense tiny nuggets of historical trivia, it plays like a dumbed-down version of bestsellers like The Da Vinci Code, which embed shards of mildly interesting information inside conspiracy-mongering thriller plots.
Straight from the Jerry Bruckheimer sausage factory, National Treasure casts Nicolas Cage as a daring adventurer hot on the trail of a colossal treasure protected by the Freemasons. Abetted by comic-relief sidekick Justin Bartha, he follows a trail of cryptic clues that leads him at one point to steal the Declaration Of Independence before his enemy (Sean Bean) can pilfer it for his own insidious purposes.
Doing his fourth tour of duty as a cog in the Bruckheimer machine, Cage once again illustrates his knack for rising and falling to the level of his material. After excellent turns in Adaptation and Matchstick Men, Cage reverts to mercenary form with a dull half-performance, slipping lazily into energy-conservation mode as yet another stolid action hero. The obsessive nature of Cage's protagonist would seem to invite the manic energy and wild-eyed abandon that characterized much of his early work: His character is, after all, someone who has devoted his life to pursuing a conspiracy theory. But all a sleepwalking Cage can muster is an overgrown Boy Scout's wholesome determination.
National Treasure is at its best when it's at its worst, when its purple dialogue and outlandish plot twists veer into self-parody. Unfortunately, it lacks the conviction to embrace its own garish awfulness, resulting in little more than tedious historical and patriotic hokum, a preposterous potboiler done in by slack pacing and pedestrian execution.