Night at the Museum
directed by Shawn Levy
starring Ben Stiller, Robin Williams
20th Century Fox
This film is fluff, but it’s some of the best fluff I’ve seen in a long time. Larry Daley (Stiller) scrapes by in NYC in a post-divorce glow, losing jobs from day to day. He needs another, right now, or no more family visits. The Museum of Natural History is hiring, and this new job looks pretty simple until the sun goes down and the monsters come out to play. T-Rex wants to play fetch, the Huns attack, and the miniature cowboys attack the Roman Empire. Larry isn’t quite up to handling these high concept problems, and it takes a waxen Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) to get Larry off his duff and make him stand up to all these enchanted beings and his own internal faults. Needless to say, no one believes the museum comes alive at night, not Larry’s son Nicky (Jake Cherry), not his proto-girlfriend Rebecca (Carla Gugino), and not even the inarticulate Museum Director Mr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais.) They have no idea what fun they are missing.
While the plot is family friendly in a dumb golden retriever way, what sells this flick is the well-executed special effects, the Ben Stiller-friendly script, and a much-less-smarmy-than-normal Robin Williams. The supporting cast was excellent, with Patrick Gallagher’s Attila the Hun a loveable yet bloodthirsty barbarian. The story’s buddy roles go to Steve Coogan as Octavius and Owen Wilson as Jebadiah. Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs drive the plot with a rather hokey theft story, but it takes a reanimated Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) to pull God out of the machine and wrap up this Cat in The Hat mess.
While the effects were top notch, what was most enjoyable was the flawless integration of CGI into the storyline. There was never a “Lookit! Lookit! Lookit how cool our mastodon looks!” moment, but when the Chinese jade lion gets up and wanders around, it seems perfectly natural. Just like color and sound are now givens in film, CGI needs to become an effortless tool of the producer, and not a spectacle unto itself. As family films go, this one gets the CGI just right, and is highly entertaining to boot. Kids get pies in the face and adults get sly references to Brokeback Mountain. Rent it soon.