You know what? There are few better antidotes to intense Oscar-wanna-be releases and treacly holiday throwaways than a fun, high-concept starring 3-4 generations of comedians. Yeah, I said it. The idea is simple but delicious: everything in a major natural history museum comes to life after dark. It’s the basis of many a well-loved story, from the Nutcracker Suite to Toy Story, only this one has a T-Rex and Huns and wild animals. We have the hapless normal person trying to insert order into the chaos, and hilarity ensues. Or at least a pleasant and consistent amusement, which these days aren’t always guarantees. I have always asked movies to do only two things: entertain me and not insult me, and Night at the Museum definitely passes the test.
Besides Ben Stiller (who really is at his best when he’s called upon to solve a crisis and/or be sympathetic), we have Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Robin Williams, Bill Cobbs, Dick Van Dyke, and Mickey Rooney. In the same movie! There’s someone for everyone with that combination. Williams also does his best kind of comedy, fully inhabiting a broad, confident character but also getting to use a little – just a tad – heartstrings. Not so much that he goes all Patch Adams, but enough to ground his mania. His Teddy Roosevelt was one of my favorite elements of the movie, but not in the way the marketing department planned.
Plenty of things about this movie are slipshod or overly silly – by trying to create a reason for the magical reanimation, Milan Trenc’s book (or maybe the screenplay) kind of painted the characters into a corner and stuck us with a pharaoh without a cause. However, the geriatric superstars breath life in just when needed. Good delivery and effects take this story much further than it might have gone otherwise.
Now, if you love museums like I do, you might have had that extra bonus experience of having your old-school love re-imagined and revitalized. Don’t just write this off as a neo-Jumanji. It’s hilarious (to a degree) to put Roman Legionnaires against Western Expansion, Huns against Peruvian villagers. It’s cool that the denizens of the museum really know that they are in a museum, not trapped in some delusion of their pre-collection life.
It seemed like the screenwriting team of Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Reno:911 most notably, which explains the otherwise inexplicable success) wrote a couple of scenes just trying to milk Ben Stiller’s and Owen Wilson’s chemistry a little. It’s a blameless motive but what I felt comprised the weakest moments in the movie.
My companion quipped, “That was great, and I think I learned something!” Now, I’m pretty sure he didn’t really mean it, but our mood was positive upon leaving. I’m not saying Night at the Museum will change your life, or even be remembered in a few months, but it’s a sweet treat today.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/22/06
Time in minutes 108
Director Shawn Levy
Studio 20th Century Fox