Is it even possible anymore to make a Jerry Bruckheimer-style movie with a straight face? Can we absorb another army-of-one rogue hero, another blindingly beautiful blond love interest with a PhD, another pile-driving musical score accompanied by percussive choppers, more priceless artifacts blown to smithereens, more stolen kisses in the face of imminent (as if) death? Is it true that someone can write a scene in which Nicolas Cage uses the Declaration of Independence as a shield against bullets, and that, somewhere, it'll be considered a great idea?
Technically, yes, as Disney demonstrates with its new high-octane, eighth-grade field trip to the nation's capital and beyond, "National Treasure." Whether it's a good idea is another story. "National Treasure" may be an action-packed tear through the wildly unsubstantiated side of American history, but it has all the soul, wit and originality of a major co-branding campaign.
Admittedly, portraying a modern America without total brand saturation would be a little like portraying ancient Rome without sandals, but a movie has to come from the right place to feel if not completely authentic then at least more or less organic in its own fakey, man-made way. But its prodigious marketing effort overwhelms "National Treasure," and not just because of its impressive number of promotional tie-ins. (McDonald's, Verizon, Visa, Kodak, Dodge and NASCAR are part of the cross-promotion, as are the cities of Washington and Philadelphia.) The movie is just too willing to veer off into memorable merchandising moments, such as the scene in which Cage and Diane Kruger, who plays the beautiful Dr. Abigail Chase, a National Archives curator, take a trip to Urban Outfitters for a flirty, age-inappropriate costume change in adjoining dressing rooms, and the gift-shop scene starring Visa. Could an Oscar be far off for the beguiling plastic rectangle?