Unless the movie is called “Planet of the Apes” its faint praise to say the monkey is the best thing about a picture. Such is the case with “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” the third outing in the popular Ben Stiller kid’s franchise. Crystal the Monkey as Dexter a Capuchin monkey, gets the most laughs and is the only member of the top-of-the-line cast who doesn’t feel like they’re only in it for the big holiday movie paycheque.
On the third visit to the New York Natural History Museum we discover the Tablet of Ahkmenrah, the magical Egyptian plaque that gives its life force to the museum’s statues, allowing them to come to life after the sun goes down, is losing its power. Soon the tablet will die and so will animated exhibits Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams in one of his last movies), miniature men Jedediah and Octavius (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan), and a Neanderthal named Laa (Ben Stiller). To save them night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller again) travels to the British Museum to find the secret to restoring the artifact’s power.
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” beats the original premise into submission, blowing up the idea of a secret nightlife at the museum into the best example this year of how franchise filmmaking can go horribly wrong. Like the dimming tablet that slows down the wax exhibits, this movie sucks the life out of once interesting characters, placing them in a plot that is essentially an excuse to showcase more characters (like Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot and a surprising and rather charming cameo from a very big star) and bigger special effects than in parts one and two.
There’s plenty of kid friendly slapstick and computer generated effects but a short action scene inside M. C. Escher’s topsy turvy staircase painting shows more imagination than the rest of the movie’s big set pieces put together.
It all feels old hat and despite the nostalgic rush of seeing the late Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams on the big screen, it’s less exciting to see Sir Ben Kingsley as Ahkmenrah’s father delivering bad double entendres like, “I am a pharaoh. Kiss my staff.” Andrea Martin has a fun blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo and the above mentioned cameo will raise a laugh, but as I left the theatre I couldn’t help but think my feelings about the film were best summed up by a line Octavius speaks just after a monkey urinates on him. “We must never speak of what happened here.”