NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB Review

I'm a big Frat Pack fan and always have been. The juice has long since run out on their heyday and I can admit that, but even still it is nice to see a few of them get back together every now and then even if it's for another installment of Ben Stiller's big family franchise. These films are harmless and if they're good for anything it's the excuse to see Stiller and Owen Wilson on screen together again. As much as I'd love for the likes of fellow Frat Packers to show up in this kind of movie, playing different historical figures that might place Paul Rudd as Lancelot, Will Ferrell as one of the ancient Greek statues, Jack Black as one of Attila's huns, Steve Carell and Vince Vaughn as a few of the neanderthal's while Luke Wilson would be the easiest of the bunch by adding in another cowboy to help Jedediah and Octavius (Steve Coogan), I know it will never happen, not at this point. No, at this point it would only feel like a last resort of types as even Stiller returning to this franchise five years after Battle of the Smithsonian feels a little desperate in the sense he needed something guaranteed. I can remember walking into the original (at the age of nineteen) with a sense of excitement still, not only for why Stiller might have chosen this obvious family entertainment as his next project, but for the inherently interesting premise that came along with it. It was a film fine for what it was with a fair amount to offer in return. It was obvious from the beginning what it was positioned to be and it achieved those goals, clearly, as now eight years later we are talking about the third film. Still, with this third and presumably final chapter in the story you can feel the sense of obligation to it all. There isn't a natural energy to it, but more a forced sense of fun in that it was a rush job to capitalize on the holiday season and the fact if another year went by it really would be too late to make another one. You can feel the strain of time on Stiller in particular as he can't seem to commit enough again for us to not see through his trying facade. It's not so much that it feels like movies such as this have lost there wonder, but of course the fact I have lost my wonder for movies such as this. My only hope when I see a film such as Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is that it reinstills the wonder I found as a child in these make-believe adventures, but that wonder was in limited supply here.

Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) leads Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and his crew through the British Museum.
Four screenwriters compiled this thing while it could have easily been plotted out by a single mind and would have been all the more beneficial for it. Director Shawn Levy returns to close out his trilogy while I can't help but feel things were a little rushed from his angle as well given he'd already made another film that was released three months prior to this one (This is Where I Leave You). When we once again meet our hero of the story, Larry Daley (Stiller), things are going well for the security guard who has now also been promoted to the manager of the night program in which he uses the fact everything in the museum comes to life as a way of raising funds. The director of the museum , Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais), is seemingly happy with the progress until the night of the grand re-opening when things to strangely awry and he loses his job because of it. Determined to not only get McPhee his job back, but to figure out what is going on with Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck) and Dexter the Capuchin monkey among others Larry tracks things back to Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and the golden tablet that started it all. When it is revealed the tablet has started to corrode it seems the only option is to chase down Ahkmenrah's parents, Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) and Shepsheret (Anjali Jay), who are housed in London's British Museum. With this, Larry and his now eighteen year-old son Nicky (Skyler Gisondo replacing Jake Cherry from the first two) along with the all of the core characters plus a new neanderthal named Laaa (also Stiller) travel to England to sort everything out. Once there, they run into a whole new world of trouble as that museum is waking up for the first time presenting the team with a set of obstacles that might prevent them from saving the magic of the tablet before it is gone forever.    

Very much like the first two films, Secret of the Tomb attempts to pack just as much fun and historical information into its story as possible while the comedy is where things suffer this time around. The writers do well to manage the screen time for all the new characters and the ones from the previous films as both Rebel Wilson and Dan Stevens' new additions do well to add what comedy they can and contribute to the arc of the story in integral ways. The kind of comedy we're talking about here is obviously safe comedy as this is intended to offend no one. There are plenty of attempts here to be sure, it just feels those attempts fall flat more often than not. There is a running gag with Laaa who thinks Larry is his father and keeps mimcing everything he does. Sure, the bit allows Stiller to display his goofy act that never seemed to fit his more subdued style of comedy, but that he often resorted to anyway and as they usually do when Stiller goes that route, the laughs feel cheap. There is a specific scene where the joke of the two looking and acting alike is the entire point and it is so transparent you can see the carelessness through even the pounds of make-up and costume that Stiller is sporting. As Lancelot, Stevens should have went ahead and stolen the entire movie as he is so intentionally campy and ignorant to the ways of the world he has awoken to that when Stevens plays it as dry as he does it immediately reverts to a solid laugh. There are also plenty of subtle jokes in here for the adults as one of the best bits come from Larry, a Jew, meeting the Egyptian Pharaoh Merenkahre for the first time in which they recount (somewhat ironically given Kingsley is involved again) the Exodus story from two extremely different points of view. This is only preceded by Merenkahre asking Larry to kiss his staff, followed by Lancelot's nose melting into what looks like a penis hanging off his face. There is also a fair amount of gay subtext sprinkled throughout as Coogan's Octavius can't stop staring at Lancelot's piercing blue eyes or reaching out to hold Jedediah's hand. The film has its moments, for sure, but they are too few and far between for this film to be labeled as a comedy.    

Laaa (Ben Stiller) and Tilly (Rebel Wilson) share a special connection.
I came out of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb with not much to think about besides the fact what I'd just witnessed was again, fine for what it needed to be. I liked that the makers were consistent in incorporating interesting tidbits of information and making sure the kids were always gaining some knowledge (even if they didn't realize it) about the historical figures and events at play through the beats the plot hits. Admittedly, it is also difficult to manage an ensemble of such specific characters when trying to maneuver those personalities through a single goal while allowing each of them to bring something different to the table, but maybe that's what the four writers were for as it is done admirably well here. The film moves along at a brisk pace and never hovers on one situation or plot element for too long, but instead quickly moves to the next scene so as to never leave the audience bored. In truth, these films are well-oiled machines and this one will certainly rake in enough money from families seeking something for everyone this season, even if it's not as much as the first two. There isn't much more to say about a film so obvious in its intent and execution, but on something of a final note it seems necessary to mention the role Robin Williams played. In one of his final big screen appearances you can feel the almost burden-like nature of his performance. Maybe it is what we now know about his personal life and what was looming over the actors mind that informs this somewhat disinterested and obligated sense to his performance, but one can't help but feel an extreme amount of empathy with the man on some level. He gives some of what is expected of him at certain moments, but you can see through the recycled schtick quite clearly and now it only becomes more meaningful to the fact he was probably tired of playing these exact kind of roles. It is a depressing note to take on a film so innocent and inherently hopeful in what it wants to achieve, but as with most of Williams' performances there is a touch of poignancy near the end that brings back memories of why he was such a special performer.