April 7, 2007 -- “Night at the Museum” is a good idea for a movie, and it has good actors and good effects, but it is so poorly executed it is painful to watch. How this movie did any business at the box office is beyond me. It is one of those mediocre movies that should have been a lot better than it was.
Ben Stiller stars as likeable looser Larry Daley, a man so desperate for employment he takes a job as a night watchman at a museum, only to find out to his horror that he is in great danger when a T-Rex, Attila the Hun, lions, elephants and other dangerous creatures come to life each night to menace him. He is so desperate for a job that he stays there even after he finds out how dangerous the museum is. He keeps the job in order to impress his son, Nick (Jake Cherry). It's not enough that the museum is haunted, there is also a robbery, along with a couple of romances and some other clunky subplots.
This “be all you can be” theme also has quite a bit of added slapstick comedy including an embarrassing “slapping your monkey” routine (ha ha). One comic bit has Daley playing around with the public address system in the museum. This bit is only mildly amusing, but it becomes downright irritating when it goes on about 10 times longer than it should have. The comic timing of the film was way off. The idea seems to be if a bit is funny for 30 seconds, keep running it to death for three more minutes. Comedy doesn't work that way. You can stretch a comic bit only so far and then it breaks. It wears out its welcome. That is why comedy is so hard. You can't stretch it out. You have to write more jokes to fill in the gaps.
The film is also short on character development. The characters are quite thin. There are some very odd ones, too. Daley's boss at the museum, Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) is a very strange and wildly inconsistent character. Gervais is a gifted comic actor, but has little to work with in this character. Rather than being funny, he is slightly creepy. The vast talents of comics Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson are all pretty much wasted. There is little for them to do. Stiller is the main guy here and he does his best to carry this cockeyed film on his back, but it wears him down after awhile. There are just too many buckets of sappy, smelly, unfunny dialogue for him to haul around.
Bill Cobbs, Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke are all getting up there in years. I hope this isn't their last film. They deserve to go out on something more stylish and funny than this lame duck. This film is an embarrassing wasted opportunity, but it made money at the box office, so it won't hurt anybody's career. That is a good thing, and a bad thing too. It means talented actors like Ben Stiller and Carla Gugino will get more work. It also means the director, Shawn Levy (“The Pink Panther”) will be able to inflict more dreck like this in theaters everywhere. This film rates a C.
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