Jerry Bruckheimer

National Treasure

2004

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Turtletaub
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Written by Jim Kouf, Oren Aviv & Charles Segar (story)
Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley (screenplay)

I had heard a lot about NATIONAL TREASURE before I saw it. Friends of mine told me to see it because it reminded them of something that I might write. Roger Ebert just about called it an out-and-out rip off of “The DaVinci Code.”  Other people said it was boring, stupid, trite, a rip-off of this or that movie or character, mostly Indiana Jones or Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt

I saw it for myself and you know what was the most surprising thing to me about the movie was? That this was a Jerry Bruckheimer/Nicolas Cage collaboration that didn’t have any of the qualities that were evident in their other films together such as “Con Air” or “The Rock.” This is an action movie, yes. But when you compare it to what we call action movies today, it’s very modest. There is only one explosion, one car chase, one shootout and only one death and even that is due to the poor dumb bastard who gets killed making a wrong step. NATIONAL TREASURE is a movie that plays as if Cage and Bruckheimer had sat down and said: “let’s do an action movie that’s totally different from the action movies we’ve done before.” and in doing so, they’ve given today’s audience what amounts to an updated version of my beloved pulp adventure serials from the 1930’s/1940’s.

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) has spent his entire life looking for a treasure that has passed from Emperors to Kings to Pharaohs and finally to The Founding Fathers of The American Government. The treasure has grown to such enormous wealth that supposedly it’s “too large for any one man or nation to own” and The Knights Templars protected it in Europe for hundreds of years until it was moved to America along with The Knights Templar who became The Freemasons. The Freemasons counted among their members such notable Founding Fathers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin who left clues scattered among the various works they left behind as to where this fabulously immense treasure could be found.

Gates has discovered that the map to where the National Treasure is located is on the back of The Declaration of Independence. What is unfortunate is that he can’t get anybody to believe him, especially The FBI or Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who is a curator at The National Archives. When Gates tells her about the invisible map that is on the back of The Declaration of Independence and has been there for hundreds of years undetected she asks him quite seriously: “Who wrote it there? Bigfoot?”

Gates doesn’t have much time to try and change the minds of the FBI or Dr. Chase since his former partner Ian Howe has double-crossed him and intends to steal The Declaration and find the treasure. Gates decides that the only thing to do is steal The Declaration of Independence himself with the help of his brilliant tech-savvy sidekick Riley Poole and find the treasure before Ian does.

NATIONAL TREASURE has a lot going for it in the way it handles the characters and the motivations behind what they’re doing. Gates is not a treasure seeker in the conventional sense and indeed, he keeps telling people that he’s a ‘treasure protector’. He’s looking for the National Treasure to vindicate his family name since The Gates Family are looked upon as crackpots by the historical/archeological community for believing that the treasure is real. And he’s got a diverse and interesting background as shown by a scene where the FBI Agent assigned to catch Gates (played by Harvey Keitel) reads Gates’ file. Gates has degrees in a whole bunch of eclectic, eccentric academic fields, which leads Keitel to muse; “I wonder just what this guy wanted to be when he grew up.”  In fact, just seeing Harvey Keitel in a Walt Disney movie is reason enough to watch NATIONAL TREASURE.

And the relationship between Gates and his rival Ian is interesting as well. For once, the bad guy in a movie isn’t a bloodthirsty maniac out to kill everybody in his way. In fact, Ian tries to go out of his way not to kill anybody because as he sensibly explains to one of his gun happy henchmen: “The authorities tend to want to find out why dead bodies have bullets in them and who put them there.” As a matter of fact, NATIONAL TREASURE is one of the few action/adventure movies I’ve seen where the bad guy actually has good reasons for why he doesn’t kill the hero when he has a chance to, especially in a scene near the end where Ian leaves Gates and his sidekicks alive in a secret tomb underneath New York’s Wall Street. It surprised me and that’s not easy for movies nowadays to do.

I liked a lot of the performances here. Nicholas Cage looks more at home playing Benjamin Franklin Gates than any of the other characters in his other action movies he’s done with Bruckheimer and maybe that’s because Gates isn’t an Indiana Jones, despite what you may have read or heard. Gates isn’t a super martial artist or expert gunman or daredevil adventurer. He’s an historian searching for vindication of his family’s dream and he plays it that way. When he’s confronted with bad guys brandishing automatic weapons he runs like his ass is on fire and he only stops to fight when he has no other way out. What makes him dangerous is his brainpower: he sees connections and can make them faster than anybody else and he’s smart enough to know that about himself and use it to his advantage.

Sean Bean is absolutely great as Cage’s rival in the race for the treasure and you get the sense that a lot of the reasons why he doesn’t kill Gates is that he really admires and respects Gates’ knowledge and resourcefulness. Jon Voigt has a lot more to do here as Patrick Henry Gates, the father of Cage’s character than he had to do as Lara Croft’s father in “Tomb Raider” and the relationship they have here in this movie will remind you of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.” Justin Bartha as Riley Poole is one of the best sidekicks I’ve seen in recent moves and he has a wonderful scene where he gets to show that he knows more than Gates that proves just how much that a sidekick can enhance the hero’s character.

Now if you watch NATIONAL TREASURE, don’t expect to see an Indiana Jones type of cliffhanging-thrill a minute-claw-your-date’s-arm-type of movie. It’s more in the nature of a scavenger hunt and the fun comes from seeing Cage’s character and his sidekicks find the clues and piece them together.

Having said all that let me say that I recommend NATIONAL TREASURE wholeheartedly. I had an excellent time with the story and characters and I don’t even think you’ll miss the usual mayhem expected from a Bruckheimer/Cage action movie. Are there holes in the plot holes and flaws? Sure there are. Cage and his crew find a ship that has supposedly been buried in the Arctic ice for hundreds of years far too easily. And would gunpowder burn after being buried under the ice for that long a time? And there’s another scene later on where Cage and his crew just happen to be standing in the exact spot in the tower where The Liberty Bell is kept so that the shadow of the sun is cast at just the right moment so they can find another clue to the treasure. But by that time I had been so captivated by the performances and the sheer audacity of the story’s premise I was just watching and saying to the movie; “what the hell, let’s go.” And I suppose that’s the best way I can tell you to take your viewing of NATIONAL TREASURE: sit back in your seat with your soda, popcorn, candy and say: “what the hell, let’s go!.” We don’t have Saturday Morning Serials anymore but we do have movies like NATIONAL TREASURE to remind us of what they once were.

131 Minutes
Rated PG

Con Air

1997
Touchstone Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Screenplay by Scott Rosenberg

The surest sign that a movie is boring me or isn’t making sense to me is this: I start rewriting it in my mind while I’m watching it and recently I watched CON AIR for the first time since it originally hit the theatres back in 1997. I thought maybe the distance of a few years would make the movie play better and to be honest, it does. I had previously dismissed CON AIR as a typically noisy Bruckheimer production that was all about the explosions and skimped on the plot. Well, it’s still a noisy Bruckheimer production but I found that I enjoyed it far more watching it now, mainly because of the performances of a number of actors who have since become really big names in the business. Guys like John Malkovitch, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Dave Chappelle and Danny Trejo who have since blown up big time in the movie business and all who have wonderful roles in this big budget action fest. But I think that CON AIR missed the plane story wise and I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s stick with what the movie actually is about:

Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage) is a decorated Army Ranger who returns home after serving a tour of distinguished service overseas. The Army has done some good for Cameron, made him grow up a little as he used to be a wild kid who wasn’t really bad but just had a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That knack still follows him as he gets into a fight with three drunks who were hitting on his wife Tricia (Monica Potter) and during the fight; Cameron kills one of the drunks. I guess the testimony of his wife didn’t mean a thing to the judge because Cameron is sentenced to 10 years in prison but he’s paroled out in 8 as he’s been a model prisoner, encouraged to keep his nose clean by the letters written to him by his wife and his daughter Casey (Landry Allbright)

Cameron and his cellmate Baby O (Mykelti Williamson) are placed aboard a massive transport plane that is a prison with wings nicknamed The Jailbird. Cameron’s going home and Baby O is being transferred to a minimum security prison and they’re naturally concerned when they find out that most of the other prisoners on the plane are some of the most dangerously psychotic criminals in the country, being transferred to a brand new escape proof prison: Cyrus The Virus (John Malkovitch) who is totally insane and totally brilliant. Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames) is a black militant revolutionary who wrote New York Times best selling books describing his revolutionary manifesto. Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo) is a serial rapist boasting 23 tattoos of roses on his body for each one of his victims who confides that his name should actually be Johnny 600 but it doesn’t have the same ring. Garland Green (Steve Buscemi) is a serial killer who slaughtered 37 people and drove across three states wearing the head of one of his female victims for a hat. Billy Bedlam (Nick Chinlund) caught his wife in bed with another man. He didn’t lay a finger on her. He drove four towns over to where her family lived and killed her mother, father, brothers, sister, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, in-laws and all their pets. Pinball Parker (Dave Chappelle) is a junkie con man grifter whose joking nature hides a sick violent streak.

What we’ve got here is a collection of maniacs that have no business being together and it wasn’t surprising to me that such a collection of such brilliantly deranged minds successfully take over the plane. Cyrus has made a deal with another prisoner on the plane: a Columbian drug lord who has promised Cyrus and his crew that if they get him back to Columbia, they can live like kings, free of extradition. Now if I had written CON AIR, I’d have had the plane make it to Columbia and then have had Cyrus and crew double crossed by the Columbian drug lord and spent the rest of the movie having this deliciously goofy cast of murderers wreak bloody revenge in an orgy of mayhem and violence. Instead we get U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) and DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) flying around in attack choppers trying to find The Jailbird and recapture Cyrus and crew. Cameron has his hands full trying to find insulin for Baby O who is rapidly going into shock and trying to prevent the only female guard on the plane (Rachel Ticontin) from being raped by Johnny 23.

CON AIR was one of three high-energy action movies Nicholas Cage made after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and in my opinion it’s the weakest of the three. ‘The Rock’ and ‘Face/Off’ were much better in terms of story and acting since Cage’s Cameron Poe is the least interesting character in the movie and spends most of his time trying to find insulin for his buddy as well as continually talking Cyrus and Diamond Dog out of killing a trio of prison guards being held as hostages. It isn’t until the end of the movie where The Jailbird crashes in Las Vegas where Cage goes into full-blown action hero mode and has to chase down Cyrus and Diamond Dog.

It’s the rest of the cast that walks off with the movie in terms of acting. John Cusack is always a delight in anything he does and he looks as if he’s having a great time as he and Colm Meany bicker and argue about how to deal with the situation. Few actors play a psychotic genius better than John Malkovitch and he has 90% of the good lines in the movie.  Steve Buscemi’s character makes a really cool entrance, being brought to the plane in an armored car in which he’s strapped down like Hannibal Lector with a dozen guards covering him with automatic weapons. There’s a really strange scene halfway through the movie involving Buscemi’s character and a little girl he meets in a trailer park and they have a tea party while singing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand” that really makes no sense and I have no idea why it’s there and it’s nowhere near as good as Buscemi’s final scene in the movie which again, reminded me of Hannibal Lector and the last scene of ‘Silence Of The Lambs’

CON AIR has some spectacular action sequences involving the giant prison plane, including the finale where it crashes on The Strip in Las Vegas and it’s one of those scenes where you have no idea how they filmed it since it’s convincing as hell but ultimately that’s all it is, one spectacular action sequence after another that have no real meaning other than spectacle for spectacle’s sake. So should you see CON AIR? If you’re an action movie junkie you most likely have seen it already. I’ve got friends of mine who claim they watch it four or five times a year but even once a year would be more than enough for me. The real entertainment value of CON AIR comes from watching Malkovitch, Rhames, Chappelle, Trejo and the other lunatics on the plane and the efforts of Cusack and Meany to capture them. The movie should have concentrated on them and cut Cage’s character out of CON AIR altogether. Now that would be a helluva ride indeed.

115 minutes
Rated R

G-Force

 

2009

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Screenplay by Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley

Based on a story by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

 

When it comes to reviewing a movie like G-FORCE I believe that an adult reviewer is better off watching it with the age appropriate child and once the movie is over, asking them what they thought of it and would he or she recommend it to other kids their age.  Let’s face it, most of us are now too jaded or think we’re too sophisticated to appreciate what a movie like G-FORCE is supposed to be or what it’s designed to do.  It’s like when old fogies rag on Justin Bieber and say they don’t understand why he’s so popular.  Well, that’s because you’re not supposed to understand.  Unless you’re a 14 year old girl, you’ll never understand.  It’s kinda the same way with G-FORCE.  You have to be of a certain age and sensibility to appreciate a line like; “Poop in his hand!”

G-FORCE is the code name for an elite team of special FBI agents that are animals.  Their handler/trainer Ben (Zach Galifianakis) tells them they’ve been genetically enhanced which accounts for their exceptional intelligence and their ability to communicate with humans.  With the aid of customized high-tech gadgets and computers guinea pigs Darwin (Sam Rockwell) Juarez (Penelope Cruz) Blaster (Tracy Morgan) star-nosed mole Speckles (Nicholas Cage) and housefly Mooch (Dee Bradley Baker) are dedicated to protecting the country and the world.

That’s if they can pass their budgetary review which is in the hands of Ben’s supervisor Kip Killian (Will Arnett) who is…shall we say highly dubious of the effectiveness of guinea pigs as secret agents.  To prove their worth, Ben sends the team into the personal residence of home appliance magnate Leonard Saber (Billy Nighy) who is under investigation.  Thanks to their various specialties in tactics, martial arts, weapons, surveillance and computer hacking, G-Force learns of a massively sinister scheme of Saber’s that is due to go down in 29 hours.  Unfortunately, the evidence the team recovered is corrupted and they have no proof.  Killian orders the project shut down and the animals destroyed.

G-Force has no choice but to escape and go rogue in order to stop Saber’s nefarious plan and save the world.  But can they do it without their gadgets, their trainer Ben and with bumbling new recruit Hurley (Jon Favreau) screwing up the mission at every turn?

I watched this movie with my four-year old nephew Alex (actually I watched it twice because he insisted that I do so) and y’know what, it actually wasn’t as much of a chore to watch as I thought it was going to be.  I enjoyed the voice work of Sam Rockwell and Penelope Cruz, both of who sound like they’re having a blast.  Tracy Morgan’s voice work was actually intrusive as the voice was entirely too recognizable as Tracy Morgan and it’s as if he’s doing his “30 Rock” persona of Tracy Jordan voicing the character.  Much more interesting is the voice work of Jon Favreau and Nicholas Cage who give their characters unique voices totally unlike their own.  The first time I watched it I didn’t know who was doing the voices until the credits at the end of the movie and was totally surprised to read Favreau’s and Cage’s names.  Their characters sound nothing like them, which I thought was a plus.

Another plus?  The human actors, Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett and Bill Nighy.  If I had seen just their parts in clips without the CGI guinea pigs I’d had thought they were in a straight spy movie because that’s pretty much how they play it.  The comedy is left mostly up to the rodents including Steve Buscemi as a hamster with anger management issues and three dumb mice.  And because this is, after all a Jerry Bruckheimer production we’ve got more than enough explosions and over the top action sequences.  Some of ‘em are actually quite impressive, given that the stunts are being done by CGI guinea pigs.

When the movie was over, I asked Alex what was his favorite part.  He answer; “When they were running away from the bad guys in their ballies.”  The ‘ballies’ is a high speed rapid deployment vehicle that consists of three clear spheres the G-Force agents drive that can either hook up together or operate independently.  They’re fast, computer assisted and naturally come pimped out with a whole bunch of gadgets Q would be proud of.  Alex also thought Hurley was the funniest one in the movie.  Alex’s favorite line in the movie? “Get your face outta my butt!”

I then ask Alex if he thought other kids his age would like it and he nodded enthusiastically, grinning like a maniac.  So don’t take it from me, take it from my co-reviewer Alex Cabbagestalk III.  If you’ve got kids around his age that haven’t seen it yet and you want to Netflix something appropriate for them to watch, give G-FORCE a try.  It’s clean, it’s wholesome, it’s fun and it won’t kill your brain cells if you’re required to watch it as well.  Enjoy.

88 minutes

Rated PG