Night At The Museum

Rating 2

Directed by Shawn Levy

Written by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, from the book by Milan Trenc

Starring Ben Stiller (Larry Daley), Carla Gugino (Rebecca), Dick Van Dyke (Cecil), Bill Cobbs (Reginald), Mickey Rooney (Gus), Jake Cherry (Nick Daley), Kim Raver (Erica Daley), Paul Rudd (Don), Robin Williams (Theodore Roosevelt), Owen Wilson (Jedediah), Steve Coogan (Octavius), Mizuo Peck (Sacajawea), Rami Malek (Ahkmenrah), Patruick Gallagher (Attila the Hun), Pierfrancesco Favino (Christopher Columbus) and Ricky Gervais (Dr McPhee)

Larry Daley is a dreamer whose fanciful ambitions have prevented him from finding steady employment. He is divorced and has a young son. When he faces eviction from his apartment in Brooklyn and talks about moving out to Queens, his ex-wife Erica threatens to take away his visiting rights, pointing out that their son Nick has already been let down too many times before. Larry reluctantly takes a job as a night guard at the American Museum of Natural History, employed as a cost-cutting exercise to replace three elderly guards, Cecil, Reginald and Gus, who have been there for more than fifty years, but are now to lose their jobs. On his first night, Larry discovers that all the exhibits come to life when the museum is shut.

‘Night at the Museum’ is a 2006 film based on the 1993 children’s picture book ‘The Night at the Museum’ by the Croatian writer and illustrator Milan Trenc. In this original picture book it is only the dinosaurs that come to life, but in the film it is all the exhibits. An expanded novelisation of the original picture book, written by Leslie Goldman, was published in 2006 to tie-in with the release of the film.

The film received mixed reaction from critics and has a 44% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 126 reviews. It had a production budget of $110 million and grossed in excess of $574 million at the box office worldwide. A sequel, ‘Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’, with an even bigger budget, was released in 2009 and has so far grossed $293 million.

‘Night at the Museum’ is a family comedy action adventure film that relies heavily on special effects. It is very typical of its type and falls into the trap that ensnares most such films coming out of Hollywood, being smothered in lashings of cheesy schmaltz and succumbing to unsatisfactorily simple-minded moralising. However, this is no less commendable than the in-built cynicism that allows us to identify these faults in the first place and the film is moderately passable, up to a point. Unfortunately, there is something missing here and it is not only the disappointing absence of invention. The film is simply not as funny as it needs to be (in fact, it rarely raises a laugh at all) and, ultimately, it just lacks heart. The exhibits may come to life, but the film rarely does.

Robin Williams puts in a disappointingly flat performance as Theodore Roosevelt and his presence reminds us that ‘Night at the Museum’ is a pale shadow of Williams’ hugely enjoyable 1995 outing ‘Jumanji’, which possessed infinitely more verve and inventiveness than this rather spongy mess of a film, which I really wanted to like a lot more than I ended up doing.

Director Shawn Levy was previously responsible for two dire Steve Martin vehicles, ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ and the 2006 remake of the ‘The Pink Panther’.

Review posted 15 June 2009

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