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.