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National Treasure: Book of Secrets among DVD reviews

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007). Given the emphasis on history in the National Treasure franchise, this follow-up to the 2004 original reminded me of a line from the Herman's Hermits tune about that jolly historical figure Henry the Eighth: "Second verse, same as the first." In other words, NT2 is essentially the same movie as its blockbuster predecessor, meaning it's a draggy combination of The Da Vinci Code and old-style serials. Only Nicolas Cage's Benjamin Franklin Gates is no Indiana Jones, and (like the first flick) this isn't Raiders of the Lost Ark. Moving ahead at breakneck speed and with no time for rhyme or reason, it's a disjointed yarn in which Gates, in an effort to prove that his great-great-grandfather wasn't one of the conspirators behind Abe Lincoln's assassination, must locate a legendary lost city of gold by uncovering clues hidden on historical artifacts in Paris, London and at the White House. Practically the entire principal cast returns from the original film – Jon Voight as Gates' dad, Diane Kruger as his girlfriend, Justin Bartha as his sidekick, and Harvey Keitel as the sympathetic FBI agent hovering around the margins (a role that exists for no discernible reason) – and they're joined by a slumming Ed Harris as a shady treasure seeker and a slumming Helen Mirren as Gates' feisty mother. It should be noted that this marked Mirren's first screen appearance since winning an Oscar for The Queen. Granted, that's not nearly as shocking as Shirley MacLaine turning up in Cannonball Run II immediately after her Terms of Endearment Oscar victory, but it's nothing to brag about, either.

Extras in the two-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by Voight and director Jon Turteltaub, five deleted scenes, bloopers, pieces on the stunts and location shooting, and a look inside the Library of Congress.

Movie: **

Extras: ***

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (2007). Francis Ford Coppola's first motion picture in approximately a decade fails to recapture even an ounce of his 1970s glory, as this pretentious, impenetrable and deadly dull film never resonates as anything more than an aging filmmaker's feeble grasp at his own lost youth. Based on the novella by Mircea Eliade and kicking off just before World War II, the film stars Tim Roth as Dominic Matei, a 70-year-old professor in Romania who's struck by lightning. Under the watchful eye of his doctor (the always welcome Bruno Ganz), Dominic not only recovers from the incident but discovers that the surge has turned him into a younger man. But now that he appears to be 40, Dominic becomes the focus of a Nazi party interested in studying his miraculous transformation; meanwhile, he also becomes involved with a woman (Alexandra Maria Lara) whose life is as wacky as his. I suppose Coppola deserves credit for choosing something so ambitious as his comeback vehicle (as opposed to, say, a Daddy Day Care sequel), but the writer-director-producer has succeeded only in creating a lifeless artifact that fails to allow any traces of humanity to penetrate its vacuum-sealed ruminations on the allure of youth and the fickle nature of time itself. For a better movie that also offers a fountain-of-youth premise, check out Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain – it may be flawed, but at least it can stimulate the senses and (more importantly) keep the viewer awake. As for Coppola, if Youth Without Youth is the best he can offer, he might want to retreat back into the wine cellar. Look for Matt Damon (star of Coppola's The Rainmaker) in a cameo appearance as a reporter.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Coppola, a brief making-of piece, and featurettes on the music and makeup.

Movie: *

Extras: **

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