Dir: Shawn Levy. 2006. US. 108mins
Based on a children’s picture book about a security guard in a museum where the inanimate exhibits come to life after hours, Night At The Museum is a disappointing foray into the family-entertainment genre for its star Ben Stiller. Unlike the magical artefacts it revolves around, this is a holiday feature that, despite a cast of well-known comic talent and some inventive CG work, shows only occasional signs of vitality.
In the US, it opens in a slot close to Meet The Fockers(2004, w’wide: $516m, US: $279m, international: $237m), which similarly featured Stiller. Eclipsing those returns will be tough: aside from lacking that film’s other stars (Robert de Niro, Barbara Streisand, Dustin Hoffman), Night is aimed squarely at kids, for whom Stiller is less of a draw.
On the plus side, Night At The Museum has the good fortune to enter a holiday market without any big-hitting family rivals such as the Harry Potter films. This should give it a clear run for a solid theatrical performance over the Christmas break, although it will struggle to attract audiences much beyond that period. Look for box-office more in the range of magical family films like Jumanji (1995, w’wide: $263m, US: $100m, international : $162m), which featured Night star Robin Williams and which also opened in December in the US.
Overseas, its repeated references to US history - among the exhibits that come to life are Teddy Roosevelt and Civil War combatants - may limit the international box office. In the UK the inclusion of comic talent like Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan could help
An underwhelming if competently crafted family film, Night feels more suited for the DVD market, particularly among parents who read their children Milan Trenc’s source book.
The story revolves around Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), an unemployed divorcee who takes a job as the night watchman of the Natural History Museum in New York. There, thanks to the mysterious agency of an inscribed tablet on one of the artefacts from ancient Egypt, the museum’s contents come to life, from tiny model soldiers illustrating famous historical battles to a huge dinosaur’s skeleton.
Having struggled to tame the chaos that ensues each night, Daley discovers three former guards plan to break into the museum and steal the ancient tablet. Rallying the animated exhibits, who will turn to dust if the relic leaves the museum, Daley determines to stop the former guards.
Night At the Museum has some messy fun with its premise, as the exhibits wreck the institution each night in moments that likely to appeal to kids’ sense of mischief. But Shawn Levy’s workman-like direction lacks flair. A subplot involving Larry’s difficult relationship with his young son drags, and the film’s message about the benefits of learning about history feels condescending. A running gag involving Stiller’s troubled relationship with a stuffed monkey is especially tiresome.
They result in unnecessary distractions from the film’s unruly action scenes, when the exhibits finally come to life and cause havoc. The CG effects are generally strong here: a T-rex skeleton that behaves like a devoted pet dog is especially characterful.
But overall the film lacks the visual imagination of, say, Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers or the novelty value of Jumanji - two other family films where CG brings to life inanimate objects - ensuring that the effects quickly grow repetitive.
Ben Stiller is uncharacteristically awkward as Daley. With the exception of his vocal performance in Madagascar, Night At The Museum is his first kids’ film. His comic style, which tends to be deadpan and low-key, isn’t well suited to the genre, and he struggles to convince in the many slapstick scenes. Robin Williams brings some much needed exuberance as Roosevelt, and makes one wish that a more physically expressive actor had been cast in the lead.
The supporting cast has an impressive roster of comic performers, including Brits Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais (who brings smarmy David Brent-like incompetence to his role as the museum director), but the thin, largely unfunny script wastes their talents. Veteran actors Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney play the scheming guards, the former exhibiting a commanding lightness of touch, the latter embarrassingly hamming things up.
21 Laps Entertainment
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Thomas M Hammel
Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon from the book by Milan Trenc
Dick Van Dyke
Charles Q Murphy
Ben Garant &
From the book by Milan Trenc
Dick Van Dyke