Night at the Mausoleum

Dec. 29, 2006, midnight | By Sarah Kinter | 15 years, 11 months ago

The comedy where humor comes to die

"You know how they say that in good museums history comes alive? Well in this one, it actually does."

What Ben Stiller's character neglects to mention as he explains the premise of "Night at the Museum" is that the mysterious Egyptian tablet that makes the museum's displays come to life at night seems to have the unfortunate side effect of making the movie's comic potential die.

Stiller is back in mediocre form as Larry Daley, another why-does-everything- happen-to-me character reminiscent of Stiller's whiny Greg in "Meet the Parents." Only this time, he's dumber and more annoying ("Teddy Roosevelt…he was our fourth president, right?"). But "Night at the Museum" doesn't work nearly as well as "Meet the Parents" does. The problem is that "Museum" makes it too easy for things to go wrong; if Attila and the Huns are running around, chased by hungry lions and a woolly mammoth, you're bound to have problems even without Stiller's bungling mistakes that made "Parents" so endearing.

You can just imagine the writers sitting in a room, discussing the "plot": "No guys, this isn't ridiculous enough. We need Dick van Dyke to inexplicably appear on a horse-drawn carriage and be chased through central park by the T-Rex. And then everyone starts dancing disco!"

To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the Wax Edition (played by Robin Williams): Some movies are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them. This movie is such utter schlock that the combined powers of Robin Williams, Dick van Dyke and a Tyrannosaurus Rex cannot save it.

Yes, Williams and van Dyke have joined the group of great performers shaming themselves to star in dreck like "Museum" — though Williams is not exactly new to the club (remember "RV"?). Van Dyke plays Cecil, the kindly old night guard who Stiller's Daley replaces and who conveniently neglects to mention that the museum comes to life at night.

Hilarity is supposed to ensue when Daley finds himself the hated ruler of the strange mix of beings that inhabits the museum: faceless "Civil War dudes," a batch of fire-obsessed cavemen and a capuchin monkey named Dexter, who frequently outsmarts Daley (not such an amazing feat, as even the Neanderthals manage to do it). What actually does ensue is certainly not hilarity; it is more along the lines of pain, as the two boring hours that follow are so far from comedy that it is false advertising to bill it as one.

Oh sure, there are jokes, if you can even call them that. But a ten-minute sequence in which Daley and Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) face each other, screaming gibberish until Daley reduces Attila to tears by conjuring memories of Attila's tortured childhood, is just not funny. Ben, did you hear that? You're not funny! Please stop!

No Stiller vehicle would be complete without his best bud Owen Wilson, who gets downsized a bit in this one as a two-inch-high model of Jedediah Smith. Wilson plays explorer Smith as an obnoxious cowboy at war with Roman emperor Octavius (Steve Coogan), who happens to live in the adjacent display case. Wilson's presence adds nothing to the movie, as he and Stiller mostly just argue over whether Stiller is a giant or Wilson is a miniature. Can anyone say boring? I would, but I've fallen asleep.

The film is directed by Shawn Levy, who gave us such gems as "Just Married," "Cheaper by the Dozen" and this year's "Pink Panther." Someone should have told Levy some of the basics of moviemaking; there's supposed to be good acting and, oh, sometimes it's a good idea to edit the movie before you send it off into theaters. That way you don't get five minutes of Stiller singing "Eye of the Tiger" into the museum intercom system.

If you happen to enjoy being bored, not laughing and watching a grown man being slapped by a monkey while covered in fire extinguisher foam, this is the movie for you. If not, you'd do better to take the advice Daley gives his son when they are about to be attacked by some particularly gruesome museum resident: "Run. Fast."

"Night at the Museum" (108 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for mild action, language and brief rude humor.

Last updated: April 23, 2021, 1:20 p.m.

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