“Night at the Museum” has a setup that’s so juicy, it’s easy to
forgive the film when it falls short of its potential.Ben Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a would-be entrepreneur whose attempts to earn a living have been so unsuccessful that the only way he can avoid eviction is taking a job as a guard at a struggling museum.
As a cost-cutting measure, Larry finds himself replacing three aging guards (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs) who’ve been patrolling the facility at night for decades.
The job isn’t as easy as it appears. The exhibits come to life shortly after the museum closes at night. Larry has to prevent the leader of a wild west exhibit (Owen Wilson) from getting into a skirmish with a Roman exhibit run by Octavius (Steve Coogan). This is especially difficult because both the cowboys and the Romans are only two inches tall.
If the humans weren’t bad enough, the museum is loaded with prehistoric and contemporary wildlife that wreck havoc through the halls including a larcenous monkey who steals Larry’s keys and instructions.
Fortunately, Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams) occasionally steps down from his horse to help out. But the former president is as smitten with Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) the way that Larry is with a museum guide (Carla Gugino).
While the movie offers the special effects department several chances to go overboard (the bone fetching dinosaur is a favorite), the cast does manage to hold their own against the eye candy. Stiller is funnier than he’s been in recent outings. Apparently dinosaur skeletons make better costars for him than Jennifer Anniston did.
Van Dyke, Rooney and Cobbs come off well even if we don’t get to see much of them, and Wilson and Coogan seem to be having fun getting into petty scrapes.
Screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (working from Milan Trenc’s book) manage to come up with several delightfully bizarre sequences you might miss if you were to blink. Pay close attention to the Italian guy made out of bronze who’s always carry maps.
At times, you almost wish the film was as clever as what Garant and Lennon’s TV show “Reno 911!” The movie might have been funnier if Larry were a little less dumb (he thinks that Roosevelt is the nation’s fourth president).
It’s frankly not that interesting to learn about the aftermath of his divorce or his futile attempts to impress his son. Let’s face it; talking Easter Island heads are the reason the movie was made.
The movie gives lip service to the wonders of book learning, but it might have been more educational and perhaps even more entertaining if Larry had to learn about the past with the audience. Imagine him having to deal with language and cultural barriers during his policing.Nonetheless, the movie does tap into that lingering curiosity about
what happens when a museum closes its doors. Chances are it’s not quite as fun or chaotic as what’s up on the screen.
Note: This review was previously published in the January 4th - January 10th issue of County Cable (countycable.net).