Night at the Museum

dir: Shawn Levy
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I know, I know, no-one really expects me to be capable of sitting through a PG-rated flick without a straitjacket being involved, and those metal clasps keeping my eyes open. But I do, on occasion, watch flicks you would ordinarily require children to gain entry to if you’re not going to have parents looking at you like they were advertising for babysitters and you arrived dressed up like Michael Jackson.

Night at the Museum, something which looks utterly stupid, was playing at the IMAX theatre located just around the corner from where I live, and my significantly better half evinced an interest in seeing it on the super silver screen, so we trundled over to check it out.

I’m not remarkably surprised by the fact that I enjoyed the flick and got a few laughs out of it, but let’s just say it helps to have spent the last few weeks inundated with nieces and nephews making every moment a screaming, whining living hell. Of course, escaping to a packed theatre full of kids would seem like jumping out of the frying pan and into a nuclear reactor, but at least a couple of hours respite from the particular kids I’m talking about was still appreciated. When will the War on Christmas be finally won, anyway?

Director Shawn Levy has been responsible for some terrible but financially successful turds he likes to think of as family-friendly films. Excluding the recent Pink Panther remake, he’s also made outright crap such as Cheaper By the Dozen, Just Married and Big Fat Liar. They’re all movies that, had they never been made, would have resulted in a slightly less awful world.

Night at the Museum can be described as the best film Shawn Levy has ever been involved with, or the least execrable, you take your pick for which one sounds more appropriate to your delicate, shell-like ears.

Make no mistake, this is still a kid’s flick. Ben Stiller plays the same character he plays in everything: a slightly nervy, put-upon dweeb who struggles to get by and get respect until the closing part of any film where he presumably gets whatever is coming to him. Ben Stiller, who I actually don’t mind that much, and find funny occasionally, has about as much range as Woody Allen. So don’t go expect Sir Lawrence Olivier or anything.

He plays Larry, a recent divorcee-dead beat dad who has trouble holding down a job and making ends meet. Despite not being able to hold down a job, he still manages to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, New York, just to be close to his son Nick (Jake Cherry). His harridan ex-wife Erica (Kim Raver) treats him eternally with the contempt he deserves.

Out of desperation, and out of a desire to not look like a complete loser in the eyes of his son, he takes a job as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. Surprisingly enough, he finds that, at night, history comes alive in a completely insane fashion.
A magical Egyptian tablet somehow animates virtually everything in the museum, from the Civil War mannequins to a wax statue of Teddy Roosevelt to the long-dead bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

But all this hilarity only ensues at night. Once dawn’s early rays appear, everything returns to somewhat normality.

Larry initially finds it quite trying, and the former security guards, played terrifyingly by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs, are not as much help as you think they would be. In fact, they’re downright surly. Especially Mickey Rooney’s character Gus, who looks like a walking haemorrhoid to boot.

Apart from not letting any of the animated exhibits get out of the museum, he also tries to win a battle of wits against a monkey called Dexter, and fails every time. He also tries to broker peace between the cowboy nation and a Roman legion, led by Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, as Jedadiah and Octavius respectively. On top of all that, there seems to be a threat to the continued magic of the scenario in the form of someone trying to steal some of the pricier priceless exhibits on display.

But the most important objective, of course, is meant to be winning back the love and admiration of his son Nick. Needless to say, Nick has to somehow be put in peril so that Larry can save him and win back his love, his precious love.

Much of the movie’s goals and premise would be gold to kids, I would imagine. I’m not entirely sure, because I’m not really an expert on what kids find entertaining these days. On the one hand I feel like they must still be able to appreciate fantastical stories and scenarios because they have that child-like sense of wonderment, at least up until the moment where life beats it out of them.

On the other hand I strangled my inner child long ago, so I’m not well-placed to glean whether they appreciate high-absurdity, high-concept stories like this one. I’m also sure they’re not the ones that will get the Brokeback Mountain reference, or whether they are ideally placed to grasp the unique pain felt by a divorced father seeing the affection that his son has for his step-father. There are plenty of elements calculated to entertain adults and children throughout, without sacrificing one for the other.

This entertaining flick has a host of big names in it, including a pointless role by Ricky Gervais as the inchoate and inarticulate museum curator, and the crackmonkey Robin Williams as President Teddy Roosevelt. Williams actually has quite a good role as the well-spoken and heroic president, who, in one of the movie’s stronger moments, points out the obvious to Larry, that he’s just a goddamn mannequin.

I enjoyed it, I’m not ashamed to say that. There’s nothing wrong with movies like this, they fulfil a function (shutting kids up for a couple of hours, which, trust me, is golden) and they can be entertaining to shmucks of all ages. The movie knows not to drown in too much treacle, and, for a kid’s fantasy flick, takes itself seriously enough (and then again, not too serious) to be able to balance its various elements effectively.

6.5 times you might wonder how deep the Brokeback Mountain kind of love must be between Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson to the point where they have to appear in every single goddamn movie together out of 10

“Good Lord, Lawrence, why are you slapping that monkey?” – Night at the Museum.