Night at the Museum (PG)
ANDREW CLARKE This is a good-looking family-friendly comedy with some great visual effects, but suffers from an almost total absence of plot. It's a sit-down-lean-back-switch-your-brain-off type of film which is perfect for those still suffering from seasonal over-indulgence.
This is a good-looking family-friendly comedy with some great visual effects, but suffers from an almost total absence of plot. It's a sit-down-lean-back-switch-your-brain-off type of film which is perfect for those still suffering from seasonal over-indulgence.
It's a smile-and-chuckle comedy rather than a laugh-out-loud gag fest which is a pity when you consider the comedy talent fighting for space in the cast list. The whole affair would have been funnier if director Shawn Levy had checked to see if he had a decent script before he started shooting.
Ben Stiller plays a divorced father who sees himself as a New York entrepreneur - unfortunately, his ex-wife and most New York job agencies see him as a delusional loser. Stiller's character finds that if he doesn't land himself a proper job then he could lose access to his son.
As luck would have it, a job appears at the New York Museum of Natural History as a night guard.
Stiller is shown the ropes by out-going oldies Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs - but they have held something back.
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As dusk descends over the city the museum exhibits come to life and Stiller finds himself chased by the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, ready to be split asunder by the hoards of Atilla the Hun, hunted by lions, trampled by mammoths or strapped down Gulliver-style by miniature cowboys. He is then rescued by the arrival of a miniature Roman army.
It turns out that a mystic Egyptian tablet is the cause of this nocturnal awakening. The special effects are well realised but amazingly there are very few laughs to be had apart from those enjoyed by kids who love the knock-about chase sequences.
Considering the sheer number of comedians in the cast they are given precious little to do. Levy seems content to play spot the famous co-star and leave it at that. Ricky Gervais is the grumpy David Brent-like museum director, Robin Williams is a bullish President Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wilson is a slow-talking cowboy model and Steve Coogan is a totally unbelievable Roman Centurion.
The guys who comes out of it best are old-stagers Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs and Mickey Rooney who appear benevolent but harbour a dark secret.
The film's dark secret, however, is an unnecessarily sentimental sequence when Ben Stiller offers Atilla the Hun psychological counselling for his traumatised youth. It sounds funny, but, sadly, in America, the land of free sentiment, it's played totally straight - and it's horrible.
Night at the Museum has a nice idea behind it and some fabulous effects, but its desperately needs some good laughs to give its stellar cast something to do.
A wasted opportunity.