Mark Reviews Movies

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Dan Stevens, Rami Malek, Skyler Gisondo, Rebel Wilson, Ricky Gervas, Ben Kingsley, Dick Van Dyke

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild action, some rude humor and brief language)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 12/19/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 18, 2014

In this era of sequels and franchises, Hollywood appears to have forgotten a pair of key notions: Not every movie merits a series, and not every series deserves a fond farewell. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, the third and apparently final entry in the series about museum exhibits that come to life, suffers from the fact that this flimsy material really only deserved a one-shot deal. If possible, the movie suffers even more from its belief that we might have some emotional stake in the process of seeing the adventures of these characters come to an end.

The portent of certain conclusion hangs heavily over the proceedings, from a prologue that explicates how the magical tablet that imbues life within inanimate museum pieces is discovered to a prophecy about "the End" approaching to the tablet's slow decay, which means the living exhibits will surely become lifeless again. In case it isn't clear by now, the movie's denouement features a string of scenes of Ben Stiller's Larry Daley saying his goodbyes to a select assortment of characters.

The final one, by chance, is saved for Robin Williams' interpretation of a wax sculpture of Teddy Roosevelt that knows it isn't the 26th President of the United States but figures it's best to keep up appearances. Williams' untimely death is another cloud of the inevitable hanging over the movie, and it's to director Shawn Levy's credit that he doesn't milk real-life tragedy for phony sentimentality. The farewell to Williams' wax Roosevelt is matter-of-fact and allows the actor a brief, spontaneous moment of undermining the gloominess of the scene. The scene and its deeper meaning are entirely coincidental, but it is fitting that one of Williams' final moments in one of his final roles is of him having the last laugh.

Lest this review become depressingly concerned with off-screen matters (The movie also marks Mickey Rooney's final appearance on the big screen), let's get back on track to the matter of the movie itself. Yes, there is the sequence of goodbyes, and it's more than a little telling that the lengthiest and most tender of them involves a monkey. This is after the movie's climax, which features the motley crew of living exhibits returning to their natural state of inert unconsciousness, and, yes, during that scene, too, the most pressing worry is that the monkey isn't alive.

Scanning the hazy memories of the previous movies, which are now all pretty much interchangeable, doesn't quite help us determine why this monkey is so important. It's a cute little animal, for sure, but its primary role here is to engage in slapstick humor. Most ignobly and memorably, the primate provides the urine-soaked punch line to a scene in which the miniature cowboy Gus (Owen Wilson) and the tiny Roman centurion Octavius (Steve Coogan) find themselves in a scale model of Pompeii. The duo are cornered by lava, and the monkey arrives in the nick of time to relieve itself on the molten rock and, for good measure, the teensy duo.

Maybe that's why the monkey's potential departure is of such import for the movie. The animal is representative of the movie's—and, for that matter, the series'—reliance on the cheap and easy gag. That's not to suggest that Levy and screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman possess an ounce of self-awareness about this. Honestly, the movie likely spends so much time worrying about the monkey because it's a cute little thing and because that might easily elicit a cheap emotional reaction from us.

The plot sees Larry taking Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), the mummified pharaoh whose tomb held the magic tablet, to a museum in London to discover from Ahkmenrah's father (Ben Kingsley) why the tablet's power is fading. Naturally, several other characters come along for the trip.

It's not important, of course, because the plot is just an excuse to rehash old jokes. They stumble across the skeleton of a dinosaur, which chasing them around the museum. They find a wax model of Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) that actually thinks it's on a quest to find the Holy Grail and return it to Camelot (His attempt to find that castle leads to the sole scene in the movie that is genuinely funny, featuring a pair of cameos from actors interrupted in their performance of a Lerner and Loewe musical). The actors improvise a lot to little effect in order to find some humor in the thin material.

We've seen this setup, these jokes, and this spread-thin approach to the material twice already. It didn't work before, and in its apparent finality, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb at least proves that it never will.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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