Nicolas Cage is that actor that everyone makes jokes about. That's probably because, no matter what the movie he's in, Nicolas Cage always acts like Nicolas Cage. There's no "serious" Nicolas Cage or "action" Nicolas Cage. It's just Nicolas Cage. He also doesn't have the best choice in movies to star in; things like Ghost Rider or Sorcerer's Apprentice have sullied his reputation. And while his best film is, without a doubt, Lord of War, there's a certain charm in his other movies. Though I'd never watch Knowing again, I loved Con Air—and, of course, National Treasure.
He's not crazy, he's right!
If you've never seen National Treasure, you're doing a great disservice to yourself—but let me summarize it anyways. Basically, Nicolas Cage plays
conspiracy theorist treasure hunter Ben Gates, on a quest to find the secret Knights Templar / Freemason treasure that some old guy told his great great great great grandfather about. Despite his father's (entirely reasonable) objections, he dedicates his life to finding this treasure and proving that the Gates family isn't crazy. Because obviously, believing in a secret organization's secret treasure of historical artifacts and dedicating your life to finding it is a completely sane thing to do, and Ben is a completely sane person.
In the beginning of the film, Gates (along with Sean Bean and his goons) find a lost ship named Charlotte stuck in the Arctic ice. Inside they find a hidden whalebone pipe (the smoking kind) which contains a secret message etched along the stem of the pipe. Because nobody in this well-funded expedition brought a pen, Ben takes the obviously reasonable (not crazy) move and pricks his finger to use his blood as ink. The riddle is solved and it is discovered that there is a secret treasure map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Sean Bean says that he and his goons will steal it, and Ben says no, so Bean tries to blow him up. He is unsuccessful.
It's at this point that, if you are watching the film, you should pause and contemplate. Why did the Freemasons place a secret pipe with a secret message etched on the stem in a ship that would be lost in the arctic, with a riddle on it that told the reader that there was a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence? Did the Founding Fathers (whose ranks included many Freemasons, as is pointed out) assume that, in the future, some treasure hunter would come along, find the pipe, and steal the Declaration to read the map? Did they expect the government to go after the treasure? Or did they, for some reason, assume that the Declaration would still be around hundreds of years later but would be easily accessible to any treasure hunters that would come around? For all their planning, they seem to have missed this simple problem.
I'm going to steal... the Declaration of Independence
Because Ben is unable to convince any government agencies that someone is trying to steal the Declaration of Independence so they can read the hidden treasure map on the back, he then resolves to steal it. Why? Because if he doesn't steal it, Sean Bean will steal it. And we don't want that. So, thanks to a series of coincidences, Ben manages to make his way into the National Archives and steal the Declaration. However, on the way out, he is noticed by Sean Bean's goons, who try to shoot at him. Ben escapes with the Declaration hidden on the inside of his suit (but is caught by the cashier at the gift shop while trying to steal a reproduction, which he lets Sean Bean steal in the subsequent car chase instead of the real Declaration).
Again, now is a time to pause and contemplate. Sean Bean is also attempting to steal the Declaration at the same time Ben is. He has no plan other than "break in." They bring guns, even though they don't actually shoot anyone but Ben (they do taser a guy though). Therefore, if Ben hadn't tried to steal the Declaration, Bean wouldn't have been successful, would've been arrested for armed robbery and probably a host of other charges, and the Declaration would be safe. However, now that Ben has stolen it, he has both the Government and Sean Bean on his tail. Obviously, Ben wouldn't have the Declaration if he didn't try to steal it. However, it's also obvious that his motives weren't as pure as he claims.
Ben then goes to his dad's house, reads the message on the back of the Declaration, duct-tapes his father to a chair, and steals his car. They then go to Independence Hall to find secret glasses that Benjamin Franklin invented and hid there in a brick marked with a Freemason compass (not crazy). Then Sean Bean gets the Declaration, brokers a deal with Ben, they find the treasure, and so on.
At the end of the movie, Ben tries to trade the Declaration for his freedom from the FBI. Well, more accurately, he gives the Declaration to the FBI agent (who is a Freemason, apparently) and asks for his freedom. The FBI agent tells him that "somebody's got to go to prison." Ben tells him that if he has a helicopter, he can help; they then don't actually end up using the helicopter, but arrest Sean Bean anyways. I don't think this is how the legal system works. Bean would go to prison for kidnapping, attempted murder, and trespassing on government property, but Ben would also go to prison for stealing the Declaration of Independence. I don't think the legal system actually works like "we need somebody to go to prison, but we're willing to let some British guy go in your place."
Tommy Wiseau has nothing on Nicolas Cage
National Treasure is a ridiculous, badly written, badly thought through rip-off of The Da Vinci Code. But here's where you run into a problem trying to judge this film: is it bad if it's enjoyable? I don't actually think this is a very good movie, but I enjoy it a lot and I've seen it countless times. And it's not good in a "so bad it's good" way. "Terribly good" movies aren't actually that enjoyable; I don't enjoy watching The Room, but I enjoy laughing about The Room with people I'm watching it with. National Treasure is more like Hackers: they're not very good films, but they're fun to watch, even if you're not laughing at how bad they are. I'd take National Treasure or Con Air over Knowing or Sorcerer's Apprentice any day.
The bottom line is: watch it. It's not going to be the best film you've ever seen. You're going to complain about all the plot holes and bad writing. There aren't any profound explorations of the human psyche, or messages about the human condition. But it won't just be another bland B-movie either. It's a fun, enjoyable movie—like Hackers, like Con Air. And, like those movies, it's fun to laugh at.