National Treasure

Also: The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.

National Treasure

Opens Fri., Nov. 19, at Metro and others

C'mon, are you really clamoring for a fourth Indiana Jones movie? At 62, Harrison Ford looks more raisin than Raider these days, and there were already signs of Jar Jar–esque preschool pandering in 1984's Temple of Doom (see: everything Short Round does). In lieu of tarnishing another iconic franchise, Hollywood offers an endearingly derivative archaeology-based action-adventure courtesy of the superstar leading man/producer combo culpable for the pea-brained machismo of The Rock, Con-Air, and Gone in 60 Seconds. Yes, puppetmaster extraordinaire Jerry Bruckheimer and his favorite hangdog hero, Nicolas Cage, are ahead of the curve again, delivering the red states family-friendly red meat that almost makes colonial American historical minutiae cool.

Treasure should collapse on itself before it even really takes off. Cage's obsessive Benjamin Franklin Gates (I know—just go with it) has devoted his life to finding the titular booty, which was allegedly hidden by the founding fathers via a series of impenetrable riddles to confound their avaricious British foes. Gates and his team make major headway in the Arctic Circle, unearthing a shipwreck and learning that an invisible map writ on the back of the Declaration of Independence is the key to the centuries-old treasure. One of these colleagues, Ian (Sean Bean), logically suggests "borrowing" the Declaration, but Gates is a true Indy-style purist. He promptly vows that he'll never let Ian steal the document, which conveniently divides the treasure seekers into two warring factions: Ian's suddenly homicidal, greedy, history-disrespecting maniacs; and Gates' noble preservationist ideologues. (Read into that whatever blue state vs. red state division you will.)

Most of this you can deduce from the trailer, and Treasure takes its sweet-ass time detailing the two groups' elaborate efforts to pilfer the parchment. The remainder of the hunt is a very pleasant, extended nod to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Gates has an irascible, borderline senile father (well played by Jon Voight), who shares his fringe-freak passion and always winds up in humorous peril. Our hero falls hard for a foxy, blond German import (Troy's Diane Kruger) whom he can't quite trust, and they all have to sidestep a bunch of ancient booby traps using their shared knowledge of ultra-arcane historical trivia. Treasure would probably end with somebody's face melting off if— atypically for Bruckheimer and company—it weren't rated PG. Despite Voight's bitching that one clue just leads to another clue, even the kids will know what the end of the rainbow ultimately yields. (PG) ANDREW BONAZELLI

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

Opens Fri., Nov. 19, at Meridian and others

Well, it doesn't totally suck, but SpongeBob will be a disappointment to fans of the TV show (like me) who expect something along the lines of that South Park movie: an outrageous, splashy expansion of the small-screen version. Were the filmmakers so distracted by the pointless, PR-friendly voice roles for Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson that they forgot to be funny? Maybe the proportions of a movie screen are as wrong for Bob as they are for his pants; even the good jokes ring hollow in the relative enormity of a theater. The 8-to-12-year-olds in the audience I saw this with were so amped before the movie started, they were practically jumping out of their skins. Twenty minutes in, they settled into restless silence.

Their reaction was right on the money, but the underlying SpongeBob TV show concept is too good for kids anyway (and its gross-out humor is totally inappropriate for children under 8). Nickelodeon and Paramount may market the shit out of him on lunchboxes for kindergarteners, but fueling SpongeBob's creator, former marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg, is a potent cocktail of influences including Robert Crumb, Mad magazine's Don Martin, 1960s-era Hanna-Barbera toons, and Krazy Kat (who can be glimpsed briefly in the background of the bar where Bob gets hammered after failing to get promoted to manager of the Krusty Krab).

So why, why, why is this script filled with lame-o pop-culture references (isn't it automatically hilarious to have a David Hasselhoff cameo?) and—I swear to God—baldness jokes? There are a few brilliant scenes of inspired surrealism, and some stunning bits of art direction that show you don't need Pixar's 30 billion megahertz computer to make beautiful animation, so if you are hell-bent on getting baked and going to a matinee, have at it. But, whether you're a parent or not, you'd do better to stay home and watch the original on TV. (PG) DAVID STOESZ

 
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