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Family "Secrets"

Friday night, my family did a little treasure hunting.

We saw the movie "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," sequel of the fun, rollicking '04 adventure that is one of my favorite movies.

"Book of Secrets," unfortunately, drags in comparison to the original, although we don't regret seeing it. This film does have its memorable moments and a solid cast, with the main characters back for a second outing (Nicolas Cage as treasure hunter Ben Gates, Diane Kruger as Gates' on-and-off girlfriend Abigail Chase, Justin Bartha as the comic-relief sidekick Riley Poole, and Jon Voight as Ben's father Patrick Gates).

What's at stake? Ben's family honor. A missing page turns up from the diary of Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, and it appears to implicate Ben's great-great-grandfather as a key conspirator in Lincoln's murder. So Ben and his dad, accompanied by Abigail and Riley, are off and running to chase down the clues -- ahead of the villain Wilkinson (Ed Harris) -- and clear their ancestor's name. (The movie should be called "International Treasure," since the quest takes them to Paris and London before they return to the U.S.) Also drawn into the adventure is Ben's mom and Patrick's ex-wife Emily (Helen Mirren), and even the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood).

Anyone who remembers the subterranean suspense scenes of the first "National Treasure" movie will find similar ones here; I guess the writers think this is what a treasure-hunt movie needs. But my favorite scenes were between Ben and the President, wonderfully played by the always superb Bruce Greenwood.

The writing could have used a lot of polishing, with Ben solving obscure clues at improbable lightning speed, lovers' quarrels that were clearly there just to shove in some conflict, and not nearly enough one-liners to make the slow scenes fun.

Is there a Presidential "Book of Secrets"? What treasure does Ben track down this time around? Can the Gates men prove their ancestor's innocence? Will couples be reunited?

By all means, check out this movie if you're a treasure-hunt fan and want to enjoy the adventure on the big screen -- but at a jaw-dropping $30 for three tickets, I'd wait for the DVD.

[My rating for "National Treasure: Book of Secrets": 2 1/2 stars out of 4.]


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