Night at the Museum


Released in 2006, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 13 Jan 2007 by Craig Eastman
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Another Christmas, another Hollywood "Holiday Season" extravaganza of effects, slapstick and, well, very little else really. This time it's the turn of Ben Stiller to keep your moppets amused with Night at the Museum; a crowd pleasing spectacle so vaporously thin on theme and plot that there's every chance it'll dissipate from memory like breath on the frosty winter breeze. Stiller plays Larry Daley, a bit of a layabout whose son Nick (Jake Cherry) is in danger of finding more to aspire to in the form of his step father than the lacklustre and unreliable figure of his own dad. In order to keep his apartment and avoid moving further away from Nick, Larry is forced to take a job as night watchman at New York's Museum of Natural History and, after taking over the reins from a trio of spritely old codgers (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs) who have been given the "downsizing" treatment, soon finds that there's more to the night shift than meets the eye.

Yes sir, in the tradition of all things festive there's magic in the air, and it turns out that when the lights go down the museum's exhibits like to come to life and party on through to the morning. Sounds like fun? It may well be, were it not for the presence of some suddenly very animated African wildlife, scores of miniature cowboys and Roman foot soldiers, fire-obsessed neolithics and the skeleton of a very large, very playful T-Rex. Oh and an annoying monkey. Gotta have an annoying monkey. Larry is certainly kept on his toes as he tries to stay on top of the mess, and just when things are starting to go well he invites Nick to visit with the intention of impressing the young lad, only for the nightly ritual to cease. With this almost certainly proving the last straw for a perpetually disappointed son, Larry attempts to discover why the exhibits have halted their nocturnal display and win back the adoration of his offspring.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a good family movie. Only the other day I was having a discussion with my good lady as to why we so rarely see movies of the quality of The Goonies or Labyrinth these days. And it's not the effect of rose-tinted spectacles either, since watching either of those movies today (as we did) proves just as entertaining now as it did back then. Night at the Museum is most definitely not a modern classic of family film making, but rather just another entry in the canon of contemporary films that seem far more preoccupied by the scattershot deployment of CGI than any form of concern for character or narrative. As affable as Stiller has always proven, there's an inescapable insincerity to his child-friendly gurning, magnified by the increasingly thick layers of make-up and black hair dye he seems incapable of escaping these days.

Night At The Museum image

Still, as bland a straight man to the antics of the museum-dwellers as Stiller makes there is still the odd laugh to be had from a uniformly squandered supporting cast. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan get most of the laughs as cowboy and Roman general respectively; tiny inhabitants of the diarama room whose displays become warring factions by night. Robin WIlliams pops up regularly as a wax representation of Theodore Roosevelt and, possibly smelling the similarity between this and his own lacklustre success with Jumanji, seems content to phone in his performance albeit minus his usual brand of anarchic gurning. A big selling point for the advertising men seems to have been the stunt casting of comic legends Mickey Rooney and DIck Van Dyke. Shame it's such a cynical attempt at buying in some level of credibility. Rooney gets a chuckle simply by yelling random offensive names at Stiller every ten minutes, but it hardly represents a career resurgence, and even the infinitely more spritely Van Dyke fails to make any impact.

Unfortunately for British viewers the weakest comedy link turns out to be Ricky Gervais as a the museum's bothersome curator. Clearly best buddies with Stiller since the American actor took on guest star duties for his BBC series Extras, Gervais must surely be in it purely for foot-in-the-door reasons. There is no other reason why the enfant terrible of UK comedy would put his name to a product of such wafer-thin credibility having turned down offers from other sources that any number of actors would sell their mothers for, and if this is what it takes to get Hollywood to sit up and notice then it's a harsh price to pay for a man so protective of his standards. Those of you who evangelise The Office beware.

In summation there's very little one can say by way of recommendation for Night at the Museum, other than if you think it'll shut the kids up for two hours then knock yourself out. The big-bucks bandwagon of CGI trundles on mercilessly and it seems the number of punters willing to throw themselves under it's wheels is in no danger of heading into decline. If I weren't of a generally sunny disposition lately I'd be tempted to rant on a bit longer about how this kind of thing has become a cancer of culture. As it is I shall offer you only the following challenge. If you simply must go and watch this tripe then by all means do so, but I bet you can't remember a damn thing about it the week after. You have been warned.

I award this tawdry pap 2 out of 5 Disko Units.

Shawn Levy
Cast list:
Ben Stiller (Larry Daley)
Jake Cherry (Nick Daley)
Robin Williams (Theodore Roosevelt)