Night at the Museum was a mammoth hit at the theatres this past December. It ruled the box office for three weeks and took in almost $200,000,000. Not bad for a movie that co-stars Andy Rooney and Dick Van Dyke, two actors more suited to the dinner theatre circuit than blockbuster movies.
Starring Ben Stiller as an unemployed man who takes a job as a night watchman at a natural history museum, the movie mixes Jumanji with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the usual Stiller shtick. Alone in the cavernous building at night, with only the handwritten instructions left by the old watchmen (Rooney and Van Dyke, along with Bill Cobbs), he discovers the true meaning of the old phrase, “They only come out at night.” He is flabbergasted to learn that once the sun goes down and the museum closes, the exhibits come to life. Giant dinosaur skeletons roam the foyer, wax statues walk and talk, and a reanimated stuffed monkey tears up his precious instruction sheet, leaving him to deal with the nightly chaos on his own. Like Bill and Ted he is assisted by some figures from the past, in particular a wax statue of Teddy Roosevelt (Jumanji star Robin Williams) who spouts sage advice.
Night at the Museum has some amazing computer generated imagery, a few good gags, but fails to really set the imagination loose. Instead of concentrating on the story—the source material, a book by the same name by Milan Trenc, is only 32 pages long—director Shawn Levy fills the screen with pandemonium hoping that flashy computer tricks will mask the holes in the story.
Stiller does what Stiller does—slapstick with an amiable edge, but like they say, “You should never act with animals or kids.” In this case Stiller might want to add “Giant reanimated dinosaur bones” to that list. There’s too much going on and Stiller, along with the story gets lost in the mix.
Night at the Museum is a fanciful story that, in execution, isn’t as interesting as the idea.