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Night at the Museum

Even for a piece-of-fluff family comedy, Ben Stiller and gang still manage to give the delightfully entertaining Night at the Museum a little edge.


Ever walk through a natural history museum and wondered what would happen if the wax figure of Neanderthal Man suddenly sprung to life? Or the skeletal remains of Tyrannosaurus Rex? Or Attila the Hun? If so, then Night at the Museum is for you. The story follows one Larry Daley (Stiller), a down-and-out divorced dad in desperate need of a job. When he grudgingly accepts what he thinks is a menial graveyard shift as a museum security guard, he finds out his first night just how difficult his new job will be when everything—and we mean EVERYTHING—in the museum comes to life. Total havoc ensues. At his wit's end, Larry must recruit the help of historical heavyweight Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) just to survive the night. Of course, there's a very silly reason why the museum is alive, something to do with an ancient Egyptian tablet, but whatever. Larry will either lose the job and disappoint his young son once again, or he will stick with it, control the chaos and become the best nighttime museum guard there ever was.


Although Stiller is clearly the star player, Museum 's ensemble effort really makes the film. Williams chews it up as the larger-than-life Roosevelt, with all his sage advice and "bully for you, son!"s. Ricky Gervais joins in as the museum's snippy director, who tries to be a Mr. Smarty Pants but isn't very articulate. Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney even make appearances as the old guards Larry is replacing, and it's great to see the 80-plus legends doing the comedy thing again. But the stand-outs are Stiller's old pal Owen Wilson (who isn't credited in the film) and Steve Coogan (Around the World in 80 Days) as miniaturized figurines—Wilson's a Old West diorama cowboy, Coogan, a warmongering Roman emperor—who are constantly at odds with one another. Of course, Stiller is always good, especially at the physical comedy, as well as being a master at the reactive shot. His reactions to playing fetch with the gigantic skeletal T-Rex or playing slap happy with a whip-smart Capuchin monkey are priceless.


Stiller had some trepidations in making Night at the Museum, since he's used to racier stuff. He admitted to Entertainment Weekly, "I always connected the family-film thing with sort of a milquetoast thing. There's that fear, do you lose your edge if you do that? You're making jokes a 6-or-7 year-old has to get... We kept trying to think, what would be spooky yet funny? Hard to figure that out." Stiller and director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen) nearly get it right. There's big gaping flaws in logic and the film's main conflict (the old guards try to steal the Egyptian tablet for their own preservation) is pretty sketchy at best. But through obvious ad-libbing, much of Museum's humor is spot-on for the adults. Take for example, when the whole Old West diorama tries to take down Larry on the train tracks, Gulliver's Travel-style, the cowboy yells, "Fire up the old iron horse, boys, and split his head in two!" But the toy train merely rams into Larry's nose. Good stuff. Stiller shouldn't worry too much about going PG, though. Like Adam Sandler, the actor seems to have a golden touch when it comes to his comedies.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.