With the jigsaw-milled educational adventure puzzle National Treasure, we hold these pseudo-truths to be self-evident: that certain Founding Fathers encrypted a clue to the location of a long-hidden ancient treasure trove on the back of the Declaration of Independence. And that although stealing is very, very wrong — especially boosting something as sacred as the precious document on which we, the people, base our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of high-gloss ficto-factual PG-adventure entertainment — it’s okay for Nicolas Cage, as an obsessive treasure hunter, to filch the thing if it helps solve the bleedin’ mystery and keeps the parchment out of the hands of a bad guy (Sean Bean).
What is only revealed in time, as the movie plays out its exceedingly busy but uninvolving twists, is that the character of a scruffy computer nerd, played with might-as-well-enjoy-myself charm by little-known actor Justin Bartha, steals the picture from glossier players. (Cage? Movie star as social studies teacher.) While Jon Voight (as Cage’s father), Harvey Keitel (as an FBI agent), and Troy’s Diane Kruger (as an archivist) engage in strenuous Adventure Acting, low-key Bartha is the only one to crack the code that signals, Hey, laugh a little, it’s only the Declaration of Independence!