Night at the Museum
Directed by Shawn Levy. Starring Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Robin Williams, Dick Van Dyke, Ricky Gervais, Mickey Rooney, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Bill Cobbs, Steve Coogan, Jake Cherry. (2006, PG, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Shawn Badgley, Fri., Dec. 22, 2006
Watching Williams as Teddy Roosevelt ogle through binoculars Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) while she stalks around a glassed-in display like some hippie chick in a buffalo-skin straitjacket after a bad trip at Woodstock ’94 makes me sad and uncomfortable. That a couple of no-names portraying an oblivious Lewis and Clark casually argue directions by pointing hither and yon – no, west is that way, dude – doesn't help. And why do the Wild West and Roman Empire dioramas get to come out and play, but the Mayans remain confined? Maybe I'm just getting old: I didn't complain when Beethoven freestyled on music-store synthesizers at the San Dimas Mall before getting arrested in the Carlin-and-Keanu-driven Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. But Night at the Museum is a family film aimed at first-graders, not teenagers. It must be held to higher standards. It is formative. Unfortunately, it's also incredibly stupid. Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a would-be schemer and all-but-deadbeat dad living in Brooklyn who finds a job as a night watchman at the American Museum of Natural History so he doesn't have to move to Queens. Doing so would disappoint his son, Nick (Cherry), who wants to become a bond trader. There's your tension. On his first night, after inheriting the instruction manual from the "downsized" Cecil (Van Dyke, who looks like he's having a blast), Reginald (Cobbs), and Gus (Rooney), Larry discovers that the place goes apeshit after dark: The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton reanimates, as do Attila the Hun, an Easter Island Moai, and the entire Hall of African Mammals. Credit Levy – who shoots everything imagination-size, larger than life, and set against amber tones – for unleashing the beasts almost immediately. Amid crummy sight gags and predictable physical comedy, scenes that sputter so awkwardly they feel like they're being started back up by a hand crank every time a bit of dialogue is exchanged, and the stale and watered-down talent that is Stiller in another nonsense story, Night at the Museum is at best a rotation of backdrops for its parade of visual effects. Take solace in those and the fact that 8-year-olds everywhere are about to discover the joy of Gervais, here in the role of bow-tied curator Dr. McPhee, not to mention Gugino as docent Rebecca in a series of low-cut sweaters. Still, they'll probably show the most love for a pugnacious Rooney – looking rather waxen and reanimated himself – whose only competition as Stiller's comic foil is a capuchin monkey.