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  • PG
  • Action, Adventure
  • 2006
  • 110 mins [R][S]

Night At The Museum

Night At The Museum

Synopsis

A museum comes to life with Ben Stiller as the custodian of history itself. A movie for kids and their anxiety-riddled dads

About

A New York family coming apart, a disintegrating father-son relationship, and a finale at the American Museum of Natural History in which a full-scale marine diorama puts in a brief appearance. Yep, while Shawn Levy's Night At The Museum may be a comedy adventure for kids, it also bears comparison to Noah Baumbach's similarly themed, if more adult, The Squid And The Whale (2005).

This is not as far-fetched as it may at first sound, for Night At The Museum is yet another in a recent run of children's films that features single fathers struggling to build bonds with their sons. Like Finding Nemo (2003) and Chicken Little (2005) before it, Levy's film appears designed for that growing demographic, the divorced dad who fills his children's weekend visit with a trip to the movies.

Failed inventor, divorcee and all-round loser Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) needs employment fast so that he can keep his apartment and continue having access to his 10-year-old son Nick (Jake Cherry). So he takes a job as night guard at the Museum of Natural History, where he quickly discovers that his wards, human and otherwise, all come to life from dusk till dawn, thanks to a magic tablet in the Egyptian room.

Hoping to impress both his son and his new colleague Rebecca (Carla Gugino), the novice sticks with the chaotic job, helped by a waxen statue of President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams). But as well as the dangers inherent in having to play fetch with a Tyrannosaurus skeleton, appease Attila and his Huns, contain the African beasts, stop the Neanderthals burning down their display, and intervene in a ground war waged by miniature models of Mayans, Romans and cowboys, Larry must also evade the watchful eye of the Museum's officious director Dr McPhee (Ricky Gervais) and foil a plot concocted by the three elderly guards who were downsized to create his job (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs - themselves veritable museum pieces in the history of cinema). Time to brush up on some history fast.

Based on Milan Trenc's 1993 children's novel, Night At The Museum will please younger members of the audience with its animated dinosaur skeletons and mischievous monkeys, although these are introduced so early in the piece that the thrill has time to wear off. Some parents may be gratified by the film's emphasis on the importance of both history and museums - but the over-literalness with which history is here brought to life virtually guarantees that the static models found at a real museum will seem disappointing forever after. Contrary to what Night At The Museum pretends, this is the triumph of fiction over history.

For the adults in the audience, there are sharp comic performances by Gervais as the humourless director, and by Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as the miniature cowboy and Roman emperor both desperate to punch above their weight.

The two leads, on the other hand, merely dial in their old routines - Stiller the neurotic fool, Williams the sanctimonious father figure. In the end it feels about as entertaining - and empty - as the third time around on a fairground ride. The concept is good, the special effects impressive, but so many long nights will leave you yawning in the end.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais, Carla Gugino, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Mickey Rooney, Robin Williams, Kim Raver, Ben Stiller, Jake Cherry
  • Director: Shawn Levy
  • Screen Writer: Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
  • Writer (Book): Milan Trenc
  • Producer: Shawn Levy, Michael Barnathan, Bob Ducsay, Chris Columbus
  • Photographer: Guillermo Navarro
  • Composer: Alan Silvestri

In a nutshell

Not everything on display is sufficiently alive in this museum-set comedy adventure.

by Anton Bitel

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