NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Robin Williams, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Jake Cherry, Ricky Gervais, Kim Raver, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan
MPAA Rating: (for mild action, language and brief rude humor)
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 12/22/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
The premise of Night at the Museum holds a lot of promise, and that turns out to be the movie's downfall. The script doesn't trust the premise of a museum that comes to life when the sun goes down. Besides throwing in a clichéd domestic conflict as the backstory, Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon's screenplay (based on a children's book by Milan Trenc) never figures out a satisfying way to bring humor to the situation, relying on hokey gags and the bland comic efforts of its cast. The movie is mildly amusing at first, when the central gag still seems fresh, but soon after, it becomes a tedious, humorless affair. The cast appears lost here, milking the tiniest, most inane jokes for as many laughs as possible even though the original setups never earn even a chuckle to begin with, and the waste of talent—especially of two comic veterans—is occasionally sad to watch. The special effects are workmanlike, getting the job done but without any especially notable detail, and by the climax, they too have worn out their welcome. The movie is best described as innocuous—harmless, inoffensive (except perhaps for one gross-out scene), and completely dull.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a down-on-his-luck divorcé who lives on his own in an apartment in New York City. He's a master of get-rich-quick schemes that take a long time to make him absolutely no money (one product, the Snapper, would have been great if not for the Clapper). His ex-wife Erica (Kim Raver) is getting ready to move with their son Nick (Jake Cherry) and her current boyfriend Don (Paul Rudd). She'll consider staying put, though, if Larry gets his act together and finds a steady job to serve as a better example for his son. After failing miserably at an employment agency, he's thrown a bone—a job no one wants—the night security guard at the city's natural history museum. After receiving the keys and a mangy, old checklist from the recently laid-off old-timers Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), Gus (Mickey Rooney), and Reginald (Bill Cobbs), Cecil gives Larry the lay of the land. He also meets the pretty docent Rebecca (Carla Gugino), who shows him how ignorant of history he is. His first night on the job goes without a hitch until midnight strikes and the various exhibits come to life.
An early sign that the movie is selling itself short is the setup of the domestic drama between Larry and his ex. It's a cheap, typical, manipulative effort to add weight to material that has none and shouldn't have any in the first place, and it's been done to death. As for comedy, the movie falls flat shortly after. Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney are horribly wasted here. The former's big moment is a conspiratorial smirk to foreshadow a burglary plot later on, and the latter is left to play the crotchety old man who threatens to beat Larry up. Ricky Gervais is also left to wither as the museum's director. He bumbles through conversations; that's it. As for our hero, there's a moment when Larry first starts his job, and to try to give Ben Stiller a moment to do some shtick, he discovers a telephone is connected to the intercom system of the museum and begins some pretty dreadful improv. Not exactly show-stopping. When the museum does finally come to life, we're treated to the limited imagination of the screenwriters yet again, who turn a skeletal tyrannosaurus into a doggish pet and have a replica of an Easter Island head looking for "gum gum" and calling Larry "dumb dumb."
And how do you make a monkey unfunny? Have him urinate on our hero for an embarrassedly extended moment, any amount of time longer than zero seconds constitutes an extended moment for this gag. Wait, there's more. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan play a miniature cowboy and Roman soldier respectively who hate each other but end up working together to thwart the robbery. Robin Williams plays a wax statute of Teddy Roosevelt, a character that offers the only hint of inspiration when he reveals he's not actually Roosevelt but only a wax sculpture. There's some potential in that concept, but it's a merely throwaway line. Did I mention the nightlife at the museum is brought about by a mysterious Egyptian tablet, and that the same tablet somehow gives the old security guards superhuman powers? So Rooney gets to make good on his threats, and at this point, we're just treading water. One gag works, and it's an easy joke juxtaposing the effect of letting air out of a tire on the miniature men and the actual effect at a medium shot of the truck. After that, you just have to settle for the really unconvincing stagecoach chase in Central Park.
Mark, you might say, this is just a kid's movie. Why so critical? Well, first, it's what I do, and second, children deserve more credit than this movie gives them. If Night at the Museum inspires a child to attend a museum, that's a fine thing. And when that child grows up, he/she can watch this movie and be baffled that he/she liked it at one point.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.