Some Words of Gonch: Movie Review : "A Night at the Museum"
The film centers around a fantasy concept in which the Museum of Natural History in New York City has artifacts, sculptures, statues, and other museum staples that magically come to life at night, hence the title. It's based on a book that immediately draws its parallels to the most obvious counterpart film: Jumanji. In fact it comes so close that they both star Robin Williams in one capacity or another. But the star of this film isn't "Jack", but actually Ben Stiller, the man who's been claiming a comedy crown for many years now, especially since There's Something About Mary and Meet The Parents. Stiller has that likeable charm that doesn't grate on you like Owen Wilson might over a very long movie, who also stars in this film, and Stiller isn't quite as big of a fool character like Will Ferrell as much as he is made to be a fool of by others. What Stiller possesses the best when compared to some of his ilk is that he is clearly the straight man playing off everyone else who manages to both derail a scene into a little bit of nonsensical dialogue while still driving the plot forward.
The fault of this film however, does not lie with Stiller himself, nor especially does it lie with Robin Williams who pulls off an excellent impersonation of Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, as he will kindly remind you. It's no surprise that Williams would do well in this role; he manages to look the part with ease, clearly can impersonate almost anything/anyone, and as he has in the past, serves as a fun-loving but quick-witted guide to our protagonist. This is essentially because he both represents a good-willed leader as is but is also one of the few normal, English-speaking humans that come to life as opposed to trying to get explanations out of stone statues or cavemen.
Night At The Museum is basically all about what would happen if that museum came to life. This of course leads to plenty of mishaps and shenanigans, but also lends itself to a lot of history and being such a well rounded museum (that I've been to myself) allows a lot of leeway for what you can do and show variety-wise. Clearly animal humor wins out a lot, as soon as we see that monkey we know he'll try to steal a lot of scenes. Yet since monkey humor is often funny but so overdone, the idea of trying to play fetch with the skeletal bones of a Tyrannasaurus Rex is much funnier, especially if you own a dog and notice the very well mimicked movements. Owen Wilson plays a typical role of an Old West cowboy in that he's just basically his same wacky self as he is in every movie (Life Aquatic and films of that nature notwithstanding) trying to fight against his roman counterpart, only in a very miniature form. While this is to add more humor it often feels very forced and doesn't add enough to matter for these cameos.
In fact that's part of the greatest flaw of this film: it often feels forced, overly jubiliant, and often lacks creative comedy. Some plots are throw away altogether. As with a standard family film, Stiller is a father of a child, a young boy in this case, who has gotten divorced and his wife has already re-hooked up (see: The Santa Clause). Stiller can't hold down a job and gets this museum night guard one (from his real-life mother no less) and proceeds to not just hold down a job and have mischief, but also win back his son's love. At the same time, the wife is basically never heard from again after the first quarter of the film. Ricky Gervais is completely wasted here, as nothing more than a museum director who has trouble expressing idioms, almost nothing to work with for someone who has The Office (UK) and Extras under his belt is insulting. Dick Van Dyke, however, is fun to see again and looks as fun to play a role off of as ever. While in comparison, his compadre in arms Mickey Rooney looks terrible for his age and has some of the most unbearable PG-ified lines in the entire film. I was amazed that Rooney didn't call Stiller a whippersnapper at any point, it was that bad.
Suffice to say that there is something that keeps the museum coming to life, a MacGuffin if you will, that someone is trying to steal for their own gain (who I won't say, though it's quite obvious by mid-film). Stiller and his son have to go to the rescue, while trying to preserve the insanity of the museum and his own job, considering that things keep going wrong on his first nights there and the director is none too happy with him. The ending is of course overly cheery in that classic family film way, with dancing by everyone and quick clips during the end credits that show a slightly pointless epilogue (basically that no one was harmed or that the bad guy is even remotely all that evil). In one way, it's hard to complain that a family film would follow a lot of cliches in the Disney sense that it may be (this is 20th Century Fox by the way) but in this day and age of filmmaking, it's really not an excuse. If you do make a comparison to a film like ! Jumanji, it had far greater interest of plot, excitement, jokes, and characters that were really cared about.
While Night At The Museum is not a totally dumbed down and silly film, by the last half of the movie, it fails to even come close to escaping its genre's cliches, lack of interesting action or simple yet still smart humor, and working too hard to try and establish an ending plot for the film to grasp onto. Though there are certainly worse films out there this season, it is not recommended for teenagers and up as the film will drag to its inevitable conclusion, but kids will surely be entertained. Only problem was, by the end credits, I wasn't.
Night At The Museum receives Gonch's Bronze Medal Of Family Film Cliches.