A Night at the Museum
2006Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais
s this how far a $110 million budget goes these days? A bunch of talented actors, tons of whiz-bang special effects, and a plot apparently constructed from Mad Libs? Don’t be fooled by the stellar box office or the ubiquitous advertising campaign—A Night at the Museum is a disaster. Of course, the concept is brilliant: what if the exhibits at the Natural History Museum came to life after everyone goes to sleep? Let’s see what happens when you get Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, and Ricky Gervais together to find out! Sadly, one great idea won’t carry a project through three laborious acts if certain crewmembers are concerned only with a hefty paycheck.
Don’t blame the actors. Stiller delivers a capable (if unspectacular) performance as Larry, a ne’er-do-well inventor. Larry takes a job as a night watchman in order to impress his 10-year old son. To be brief, hijinks ensue. Immediately after the museum empties for the evening, a motley array of historical figures begins to terrorize Larry. The bones of a T-Rex (wanting to play fetch, it seems) chase the man around the lobby. In an exhibit of miniatures, a cowboy named Jedediah (Owen Wilson) feuds with a group of Roman Legionaries led by a warrior named Octavius (Steve Coogan). But even these characters (plus a bombastic Teddy Roosevelt campily portrayed by Robin Williams) only provide a few moments of levity.
Although the strong cast struggles amiably, a troupe comprised of Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, and Oliver Hardy couldn’t make this nonsensical tale a winner. Instead of throwing dollars at the star-studded cast and the eye-popping CGI, 20th Century Fox should have sought out better writers than the team that brought you Oscar-winning gems such as The Pacifier, Taxi, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Unlike the aforementioned films, however, A Night at the Museum takes itself seriously with a pompous score that strives for gravitas and a maudlin story that strains for tears.
You see, things aren’t going well for Larry and his boy. The man’s ex-wife married a bond trader (played by the consistently funny Paul Rudd), so the relationship between father and son deteriorates with each passing day. But rather than actually develop this plotline, the filmmakers use it as a calculating device, pleading sympathy for the characters without working to invest the audience. Cheap sentimentality aside, the script is filled with sloppiness and inattention to detail. At first, the Attila the Hun exhibit speaks English, but suddenly he needs an interpreter to communicate. Teddy Roosevelt admits to being manufactured in a factory, but in the next moment, the filmmakers depict Sacagawea as a historical personage, not a counterfeit likeness. To quote Jay-Z: shit don’t make sense.
For all its shortcomings, A Night at the Museum is a children’s story and I imagine most kids won’t be bothered by its poor script. However, Hollywood would be wise to cease condescending to children and to start crafting live-action movies with care. With outstanding execution, Museum could’ve been a classic on the scale of A Neverending Story (albeit minus the awesome Giorgio Moroder score). Rather, A Night at the Museum is a middling effort on par with Jumanji, with another extraordinary Hollywood cast wedged into a typically underwhelming Hollywood production.
A Night at the Museum is currently playing in wide release.