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Night At The Museum

Night At The Museum

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Shawn Levy; Audio Commentary By The Writers; Deleted And Extended Scenes; Bringing The Museum To Life – Featurette; Monkey Business – Featurette; Making Of Night At The Museum – Featurette; Blooper Reel; McFly Music Video; Trailers; Rexy’s Bone Jumble – Set-Top Game.

FOR a film that boasts so much potential – from concept right through to cast – Night At The Museum is a hugely frustrating affair.

It plays well for kids and contains the odd adult laugh (such as the sight of Ben Stiller spanking a capuchin monkey) but it never comes close to delivering the kind of all-round entertainment we had been expecting.

Director Shawn Levy repeatedly fails to make the most of the toy box at his disposal and keeps things so family-friendly and risk-free that Night At The Museum ultimately feels like a wasted opportunity.

The concept, in particular, is a great one and, in the hands of an imaginative director such as Steven Spielberg could have given rise to a classic experience.

Instead, it has been placed in the hands of the filmmaker behind Cheaper By The Dozen and The Pink Panther, with lacklustre results.

Ben Stiller stars as would-be entrepreneur Larry Daley, who reluctantly accepts a job on the graveyard shift as a security guard at New York’s Natural History Museum in a bid to impress his estranged son.

But he is alarmed to discover that when the lights go out at the museum the exhibits, led by 26th American President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), come to life to create all manner of mayhem.

Hence, Larry has to contend with a playful T-rex, Attila the Hun and his troop of barbarians, a naughty capuchin monkey and all manner of miniature cowboys and Roman emperors.

Yet while this gives rise to some fast and frantic set pieces, the film never engages the imagination as vividly as it might.

By opting to keep things so warm and sentimental, Levy deprives the picture of any threat whatsoever, reducing each character to someone (or something) in search of love and understanding.

The dinosaur, for instance, just wants to play fetch with his bone, while Attila blames a bad childhood for his anger.

Most of the cast also seem to be on auto-pilot and struggling with the good intentions of proceedings. Stiller plays cute and cuddly as he has done on countless occasions (only without the risque gags), Robin Williams is seriously withdrawn, and Owen Wilson is content to trade on his smooth-talking persona as one of the miniature cowboys.

Even Ricky Gervais disappoints in his Hollywood debut as the fussy museum curator – his awkward social graces and half-finished put-downs capable of making even David Brent squirm.

It’s left to screen veterans Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs to provide any real bite as the villains of the piece but given their age and screen reputations they fail to convince as such.

The screenplay, by Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, raises the odd chuckle but never feels inspired, and many of the set pieces feel laboured when they should have been a riot.

Yet the film does occasionally spark into life. The banter between Steve Coogan’s pint-sized General Octavius and Wilson’s cowboy is amusing, while visual tributes to past hits such as Gulliver’s Travels reward the older eye.

The director is also clever enough to keep things moving so that younger viewers don’t become bored, while dropping in the odd historical anecdote of note.

Such moments, however, only serve to leave viewers pondering what might have been. Had Levy exhibited a little more bravery and allowed his imagination (and cast) to run riot, then this might have been a museum trip worth taking.

Read our interview with Ricky Gervais

Read our interview with Ben Stiller

Certificate: PG
Running time: 108mins