|Night at the Museum (2006)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais, Kim Raver, Robin Williams
Director: Shawn Levy
Ben Stiller knows funny. So does Dick Van Dyke, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais and Owen Wilson. Carla Gugino, meanwhile, was Karen Cisco and the mother of the Spy Kids, so she knows funny, too. Why, then, is “Night at the Museum” so incredibly unfunny? Blame must squarely be placed on the shoulders of screenwriters Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, who also know funny (“The State”) but happen to write really, really bad screenplays (“Taxi,” “The Pacifier,” “Let’s Go to Prison”). You can’t help but think that if everyone worked together, they could have made the best wax-figures-come-to-life-at-night movie in history. Instead, they made this, and no one will mistake this for anything great, save perhaps, God help us, a great big moneymaker. Please don’t allow that to happen, I beg of you.
Stiller is Larry Daley, a man who’s big on ideas but low on accountability (think Michael Keaton from “Night Shift”). He’s about to get evicted from his apartment – again – an in an attempt to raise his image in the eyes of his son (Jake Cherry), he agrees to take a regular job as the night guard at the Museum of Natural History. What the man Larry’s replacing (Van Dyke) doesn’t tell him is that the entire museum comes to life at night. Before Larry knows it, the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the museum’s entrance is drinking from the water fountain, to Larry’s utter horror. But the men left a set of “Jumanji”-style directions behind for Larry to follow in order to get through the night. Directions, however, are of little worth when there are lions in one wing, Attila the Hun in another, and miniature cowboys and Roman soldiers feuding in between. Luckily, Larry has Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) to serve as his guide.
There is tremendous potential in the source material, one of those rare opportunities to educate the kids as well as entertain both them and the adults. This angle is quickly abandoned in favor of biting monkeys, ninja-like septuagenarians (don’t ask) and way, way too much talk about people’s feelings. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be sensitive, but talking to Attila the Hun about being “ripped apart” inside – without the assistance of a translator, mind you – would make Dr. Phil blush.
The movie also looks ridiculous. For the detail they spent on the T. Rex, they sure as hell blew the miniature shots, which are the fakest green screen shots since “Starship Troopers.” And let us discuss the story’s manufactured conflict; from Larry’s relationship with the resident history geek (Gugino) and curator (Gervais, who tries to do a recurring bit involving a gross lack of communication that goes nowhere) to his own son, the movie goes out of its way to throw as many objects as possible in Larry’s path, when the objects in the museum were doing plenty to complicate Larry’s life as it was. Most of the issues with the humans in his life, of course, could have been resolved in a few sentences, but if those words were ever actually spoken, well, you wouldn’t have a movie, would you?
The biggest problem with “Night at the Museum,” unfortunately, is Stiller himself. He hasn’t overacted like this in ages. Indeed, when Robin Williams is the straight man to someone else, anyone else, there is a problem, Nathan Lane in “The Birdcage” excepted. Was director Shawn Levy afraid to rein him in, or did he direct Stiller to be that way on purpose in an attempt to cover up the movie’s other, varied shortcomings? Either way, all concerned would have been better served to get the script right first, and go from there. But what do I know? I’m a writer and an idealist. Which, I suppose, makes me a fool, so there you go.
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review:
While the film itself may not have been as great as its box office take would suggest, the two-disc special edition of “Night at the Museum” lives up to its name. Unlike most DVDs these days (whose audio commentaries are usually the highlight of the release), both commentary tracks (one by director Shawn Levy, and another by writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant) border on mediocrity.
Disc two is where all the rest of the extras reside, including 17 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, the Comedy Central “Reel Comedy” special, and the obligatory blooper reel – which just so happens to be the funniest thing on the set. As far as behind-the-scenes material goes, there’s plenty to go around, from short featurettes on special effects (“Bringing the Museum to Life”) and animal training (“Monkey Business”), to more technical aspects like production design (“Building the Museum”) and costumes (“Historical Threads”). Also included are a series of storyboard-to-screen comparisons (“The Director’s Vision Comes Alive”), a Fox Movie Channel Presents special on the making of the T-rex chase sequence, and even an official making-of featurette.
Still, if there’s only one extra that adult viewers and film buffs will really benefit from, it’s the second (and much longer) Fox Movie Channel Presents special, “Life After Film School,” which features director Shawn Levy discussing his craft with three film students. As he fields questions from the wannabe directors, Levy really shines some light on the profession and earns a little bit of respect along the way.