Night at the Museum


Night at the Museum stars Ben Stiller, and it's about what you might expect from a Stiller film. Playing a lovable loser (again), he has to compete against a set of museum pieces, rather than irate in-laws or a demanding female. This is a comedy, no surprise, but it's firmly in the family-friendly "PG" mode, without the sexual tinges that usually color Stiller's shtick. There's some violence, but it's strictly make-believe, not calculated or likely to give any young ones problems. In short, it provides some easy, if not especially original entertainment.

The plot is not all that far from "Jumanji" or "Zathura," two films involving large animals and other beings magically and threateningly springing to life. The object of the game, here as there, is to get them back in their place with everyone living happily ever after. Again, to no surprise, Stiller accomplishes that after sundry adventures, most of them comic.

The difference here is that the "game" is actually the night watchman job that Larry Daley (Stiller) inherits from three laid-off oldsters as the museum attempts to downsize. As the retiring trio, film vets Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobb, and Mickey Rooney are fun to watch, though their characters clearly have ulterior motives which further complicate Larry's already difficult job. See, all the exhibits come to life once the sun goes down, and only a beat-up handbook can quell the near riot this metamorphosis entails. Oh, there's also a budding love story thrown in, as Larry helps a museum docent out with her stalled dissertation on Sakagawea, whom Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) has a crush on.

In short, the movie isn't short on plot or characters. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan turn up in small (in every way) parts as a cowboy and a Roman emperor involved in a turf war. A statue of Columbus comes to life, an Easter Island carving wants bubble gum, a treacherous Capuchin monkey likes to steal Larry's key--there's more incident than the Natural History Museum itself can accommodate. The action eventually (and predictably) spills out into Central Park for (what else) a madcap chase. The ending is, well, lame, but the kids will probably not mind.

Stiller tries manfully to pump energy into the film, as does director Shawn Levy, who also has a producing credit. Levy and film editor Don Zimmerman let shots run on too long, however, presumably to leave room for the yuks which they expect to drown out the dialogue. When they don't, the comic momentum drags badly, the efforts of a small army of animators notwithstanding.

Night at the Museum is harmless and pleasant fare, though derivative and a tad long-witted. If you're looking to get the kids out of the house during vacation, you could do worse.


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