Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Shawn Levy
Stars: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Dan Stevens, Skyler Gisondo, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Rebel Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Patrick Gallagher, Rami Malek, Mizuo Peck, Hugh Jackman, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs.
This third, and hopefully final, installment in director Shawn Levy’s successful Night At The Museum franchise features what is the last performance of the late and great Robin Williams, who reprises his role as the avuncular Theodore Roosevelt. But it is a rather disappointing swansong for the talented but tragic comic actor, who seems to be merely coasting on autopilot here. And it is also a very disappointing swansong for another cinema legend in veteran Mickey Rooney, who is typically feisty in a blink and you miss it cameo that harks back to original Night At The Museum.
Night At The Museum 3 is another typically lazy and uninspired sequel that adds little that is fresh or innovative to the tired and familiar formula about museum exhibits brought magically to life and adjusting to the brave but strange new world of the twenty first century. The film is set some five years after the second film in the series. The wonderful exhibits that come to life at New York’s Museum of Natural History by night have greatly enhanced its reputation. And while the museum’s unctuous director (a sly Ricky Gervais) basks in the limelight, former nightwatchman Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has been promoted to the role of manager of nighttime operations. But the magic ancient Egyptian tablet that brought the exhibits to life is failing. Larry realises that he has to take the tablet to the British museum where an exhibit of ancient Egyptian wonders may hold the key to restoring its powers.
He is accompanied on his mission by his teenage son Nick (Skyler Gisondo, taking over the role from Jake Cherry), and a handful of familiar characters from the first two films. Along for the journey are Roosevelt, the pint sized cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Roman centurion Octavius (Steve Coogan), Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), Indian scout Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Atilla the Hun (Patrick Gallagher and Dexter the cheeky capuchin monkey. A surprise stowaway is Laaa, a wonderfully clueless neanderthal man (also played by Stiller), who thinks that Larry is his father, whose presence brings some much needed humour to the familiar ensemble.
The major difference here is that the action has now been relocated to the British Museum, but basically the script, from writers David Guion and Michael Handelman (Dinner For Schmucks, etc) rehashes many of the familiar tropes, but without the subversive touches of the original. And the subtitle itself is a bit of a furphy as we don’t really get to learn any secrets of the tomb, but rather the secret of the tablet’s power.
Moving the action to a new location allows the writers to introduce a couple of new characters. Australian comic actress Rebel Wilson brings her usual shtick to her role as Tilly, the Museum’s sex starved nightwatchman, and it seems as if she has improvised much of her dialogue. Another new character who plays an important role in the action is the noble knight Sir Lancelot (played by Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens, last seen in A Walk Among The Tombstones, etc), although what a fictitious figure like Lancelot is doing in a historical museum remains something of a mystery. However, his presence sets up some rather amusing situations.
The film also explores issues of father and son bonding as Larry worries about Nick’s decision to take a year off to work as a DJ in Ibiza while figuring out his future, which adds a more human and sentimental element to the plethora of special effects and digitally created action.
Levy keeps things moving along at a quick pace, and suffuses the material with plenty of slapstick humour and physical comedy that will appeal to many. Erik Nash’s digitally created visual effects are seamlessly incorporated into the live action. Two of the more memorable and inventive set pieces here include Larry, Roosevelt and Lancelot disappearing into M C Escher’s gravity defying lithograph Relativity as they fight over possession of the tablet, and a game Hugh Jackman plays himself portraying King Arthur in a theatrical production of the musical Camelot, which is interrupted by Lancelot during his quest to find the holy grail.
Stiller has an affable presence here as the harried Larry, but he brings some wonderfully offbeat humour to his performance as the hirsute and largely mute Laaa. And while Coogan and Wilson have a nice chemistry they are largely wasted as their characters have little to do. Ben Kingsley continues to slum it with a brief appearance here as Egyptian pharaoh Merenkahre, although his character exchanges some wonderfully politically incorrect Jewish jokes with Larry.
And while Williams’ presence adds a rather poignant note to the film, sadly Night At The Museum 3 is basically a rather tired and undistinguished effort. And while it will appeal to family audiences during the holiday season and will undoubtedly make a fortune at the box office, it’s probably time to close down this museum exhibition for good.