NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB. Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Rebel WIlson. Directed by Shawn Levy. 98 minutes.Rated PG (Mild violence and some scary scenes).
The cast gamely gives it their all, but their comedic talents can’t save the day in the third instalment of the ‘Night’ franchise. Light on plot but heavy on distracting ad-libbed moments, the self-congratulatory tone is neither deserved nor particularly engaging.
We open to an Egyptian archaeological dig in 1932, where an accident uncovers the long-sought tablet of Ahkmenrah, hidden away in a tomb. Local aides warn that if the tablet is removed, ‘the end will come’, but their cautions are ignored and the tomb’s contents are packed up for transport to America and England.
Cut to the modern day, where museum night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is running a successful night program at the Museum of Natural History in New York, convincing his boss Dr McPhee (Ricky Gervais) and the paying public that the exhibits magically coming to life are a result of cutting-edge special effects. When a curious green corrosion begins eating away at the tablet which bestows them all with supernatural life, the exhibits start to act out – Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) begins spouting gibberish and brandishing his rifle wildly, Rexy the T-Rex rampages through guests’ tables with wild abandon. Larry must take some of the exhibits and the tablet to the British Museum, where Ahkmenrah’s father and creator of the tablet Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) can help them mend the tablet before it’s too late and the magic is lost forever.
After Tilly the British night guard (Rebel Wilson) lets them in, Larry and his pals seek out Merenkahre, avoiding the dangers of the museum which has just awoken for the first time. With the help of new recruit Lancelot (Dan Stevens), they will have to navigate the treacherous halls to stop the corrosion and save the magic. While this set-up sounds promising, precious little time is spent actually exploring the British Museum, which is where the richest material lies. Surprisingly little happens, and the final solution to the tablet’s curse feels particularly undercooked.
The cast is solid as always. Ben Stiller gives his all in the lead, and Skyler Gisondo as his son Nicky is a very natural performer (though his part in the plot feels shoehorned in). Dan Stevens delivers a winning performance as Lancelot, and the film is hopefully not his first foray in big Hollywood productions after his stint on ‘Downton Abbey’. The night guard trio of the first film (Dick van Dyke, Bill Cobbs and the late Mickey Rooney) make a welcome return, and there is a pair of very welcome (and very funny) cameos during the plots detour to a musical production in London. Robin Williams’ role is tough to watch given his recent passing, and his words of farewell are all the more profound. In the screening I attended, the biggest laughs were earned by Stiller playing Laa, his doppelganger caveman character, and Wilson as Tilly, proving the Aussie actress and comedian has a bright future ahead of her.
Having not seen the second film in the trilogy, it’s entirely possible that I missed the point of this film. Little of it felt warranted, and if studio revenue is its primary purpose, I fear that audiences will not answer their call after the four year hiatus since the second film. It’s always nice to spend some quality time with quality comedians, but the filmmakers behind this effort seem to have sadly mistaken quantity for quality.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out December 26.
20th Century Fox.