A film review by Craig J. Koban January 1, 2015

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: 

SECRET OF THE TOMB j
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2014, PG, 97 mins.

 

Ben Stiller as Larry Daley  /  Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt  /  Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah  /  Rebel Wilson as Tilly  /  Dan Stevens as Lancelot  /  Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith  /  Dick Van Dyke as Cecil  /  Rachael Harris as Madeline Phelps  /  Ben Kingsley as Ankmenrah's father  /  Ricky Gervais as Dr. McPhee  /  Mickey Rooney as Gus  /  Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot  /  Steve Coogan as Octavius

Directed by Shawn Levy  Screenplay by Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, David Guion and Michael Handelman

Question: 

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB – Unnecessary sequel or unnecessary-est sequel? 

I thought that all of the comic possibilities of exploring museum artifacts and exhibits come magically to life were explored in the first two NIGHT AND THE MUSEUM pictures.  Honestly.  I did.  Perhaps there are just so much CG-creatures running around the screen amidst many celebrities playing famous – but long since dead – historical figures that a man can take over the course of a few films.  

I didn’t like the first NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM film, mostly because it utterly squandered the limitless talents of superb on-screen comedies with names like – deep breath – Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd, Ricky Gervais, and, yes, Ben Stiller.  Then came the second film from fives years ago, BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN, a follow-up entry that won me over more with its inspired monkey business and delightful eagerness to make me laugh.  SECRET OF THE TOMB brings the trilogy depressingly full circle, seeing as it’s as genuinely lacking in lively hijinks and comic inspiration as the first film.   

Ben Stiller dutifully returns for round three (albeit, looking a bit more bored and stiff than usual) as museum watchman Larry, who was shocked at the beginning of this series when the exhibitions that he guarded over nightly came to life when the sun went down.  In the new film Larry discovers that the magical tablet thingy that’s been giving the exhibits life is slowly disintegrating and losing its fantastical powers.  For reasons far too convenient and never compellingly explained (other than the need for this franchise to change geographical venues), Larry is compelled to journey all the way to London in search of a potential cure for the tablet’s aliment.  In tow with Larry are the miniature cowboy Jedediah and Roman Emperor Octavius (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, lacking enthusiasm this go around), Dexter the monkey, Sacagawea (Mizou Peck), Egyptian Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, mournfully his last film role).  The group heads to the British Museum to find answers, and while there Larry and company meet some new re-animated exhibits, like Ahkmenrah’s daddy Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley), a wise-talking and bubbling UK guard named Tilly (Rebel Wilson), and Sir Lancelot himself (Dan Stevens, the only cast member displaying any sort of merriment on screen).  Unfortunately, answers seem in short supply and Larry’s pals grow closer and closer to being reduced to inanimate objects forever. 

 

 

Stevens is unquestionably hysterical in small bits as his amusingly arrogant and self-lovingly debonair knight, who gives SECRET OF THE TOMB a much need dash of inspirational whimsy.  The film finds other moments of slyness, like a brief, but funny, moment featuring Andrea Martin as a librarian that’s addicted to playing Candy Crush.  Even though Stiller himself seems like he would rather be in another comedy altogether as Larry, he gets more laughs playing his Neanderthal doppelganger that fails to understand commands that even the dumbest of dogs would steadfastly follow.  This prehistoric cave dweller becomes a curious love interest for Rebel Wilson’s sex starved Tilly, and even though there’s clearly a language barrier between the pair they seem to hit it off.  Granted, you know a comedy’s in trouble when it pathetically engages in a DIRTY DANCING spoof – a film that was on the pop culture pulse thirty years ago – using the two aforementioned characters.  Plus, for a movie directed at children, I was left wondering why the makers even bothered to include this peculiar cinematic reference at all. 

And again…I have to ask the same question that I asked after watching the first NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM film: Why aren’t all of SECRET OF THE TOMB’s proven comic talent funny in this film?  Steve Coogan and Rickey Gervais, for instance, are two of the most side-splittingly hilarious comedians in the world, yet they both seem ill at ease and unsure of what they’re doing during their brief appearances in the film.  Owen Wilson, while still having a mischievous edge to him, seems in pure paycheck grabbing mode here.  And poor Robin Williams seems hopelessly adrift throughout THE SECRET OF THE TOMB without anything noteworthy to say or do.  I was so deeply saddened by the actor’s passing earlier this year, but I’m easily more melancholic knowing that this was his performance swan song.  What a shame. 

SECRET OF THE TOMB also fails at generating a consistent pulse of cheerfulness and energy, mostly because many of the gags and pratfalls are lethally cheap at times and, more often than not, puerile.  We are forced to endure not one, but two sequences involving that “loveable” monkey Dexter spraying urine all over the place, once on Octavius and Jedediah (granted, he was helping to put out the lava flow of the miniature Pompeii exhibit), and a second time…well…never mind.  When the film is not methodically engaging in lowest common denominator humor, it shamelessly tries to tug at our heartstrings in the larger father/son story of Larry trying to bond with his maturing son while being overly protective of his future.  Alas, it’s really hard to emotionally invest in any characters in this film when its chief modus operandi is to throw flashy visual effects on screen and marry that with stale and hackneyed pratfalls that lack even modest innovation. 

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF TOMB does have one moment – as fleeting as it is – of pure visual innovation.  It occurs late in the film as Roosevelt and Larry get accidentally transported into the M.C. Escher lithograph RELATIVITY, made famous for its warped and trippy use of perspective.  The animation used here – to compliment Escher’s artistic aesthetic – is kind of momentarily mind blowing.  Yet, this third film – and hopefully final film in the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM series – seems to be woefully lacking in regards to creativity.  It’s simply a franchise entry on pure autopilot and a financial engine designed to hopefully make money for the studio.  Even the change of venue for the film from American to London is never fully capitalized on as much as it should have been.  What we are left with here is a stilted and lackluster fantasy comedy filled with iconic actors – some that have won multiple Oscars – that don’t appear to be truly enjoying themselves.  NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB is more watch-checkingly tedious than giddily entertaining.   

So…in answer to my initial question: it’s an unnecessary-est sequel.   

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