Right around the time a monkey urinates on Ben Stiller
's head, I came to terms with the fact that Shawn Levy
's high-concept comedy Night at the Museum would choose the lowest road possible as it searched for scatological humor.
That Levy -- the pandering director responsible for this year's atrociously unnecessary Pink Panther installment -- would stoop to such levels doesn't surprise me. No, I'm more upset that it took me so long to begrudgingly accept that what could have been inspired fluff for the whole family is, in fact, is a silly parade of slapstick antics aimed at audience members age eight and under. Article continues below
Stiller plays the unremarkable Larry Daley, a milquetoast divorcee whose inability to hold a decent job has him in the doghouse with son Nick (Jake Cherry). A last-ditch job interview (handed to him by Stiller's actual mom, Anne Meara) sends Larry to New York's Museum of Natural History, where he accepts the post of night watchman and discovers that everything literally comes to life once the sun goes down.
Museum houses a veritable stable of comic relics. Dick Van Dyke
, Bill Cobbs
, and Mickey Rooney
(doing a terrible Don Rickles impersonation) creak through establishing scenes as the facility's former guards. They leave Larry a set of instructions to follow, though their motives are a little suspect. Robin Williams
keeps his motor mouth in check as a wax Theodore Roosevelt, Larry's late-night mentor. All the players, though, must blow an inch of dust off the movie's flat-as-pancakes jokes, credited to Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.
Because Museum begins with a far-fetched premise, I'm willing to overlook certain plot inconsistencies, even the ones that potentially derail the entire story. For instance, if Roosevelt knows he's a mannequin made in Poughkeepsie (and not the actual president), then how come Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) believes she's the real Indian tracker?
Still, two things stuck in my craw that can't be overlooked. As he hurls through a decathlon of catastrophes, Stiller falls back on the nervous shrugs and unearned bravado that are part of his comic approach. That's fine, though trading barbs with De Niro
in Meet the Parents is hardly the same as having a slap-fight with a monkey. However, what's disappointing is that Museum doesn't tailor its alterable script to fit around Stiller's strengths. It's immediately obvious that any actor willing to sprint for 90 minutes could play this part. (Jack Black
, in fact, might have been an inspired choice.)
Finally, Levy's effects are substandard – again, no major surprise considering Chris Columbus and Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) receive producing credits. Digital animals and miniaturized soldiers (look for Owen Wilson
and Steve Coogan
in elongated cameos) resemble rejects from the set of Jumanji, which came out 11 years ago. Yawn.
Here's an idea: Instead of buying a movie ticket, spend the afternoon in an actual museum. You'll likely laugh just as hard.