Night At The Museum

3 stars


28th December 2006

Boxing day; not a day traditionally associated with boxing by any means, or indeed any physical activity of the sort. No, in my borough, the day after Christmas is spent slumped on the sofa, consuming whatever's left of the family's confectionary, picking ones arse, and, if you're feeling especially adventurous, keeping the eyes open just long enough to take in whatever movie BBC have wangled the rights to this year. Said picture tends to be easy on the eye and even easier on the brain, the kind of undemanding adventure that will have hyperactive kids sat wide-eyed in wonderment and the rest of the family moderately amused and happy for some respite before the dreaded board game marathon. Although Night At The Museum requires you to haul ass to the cinema to appreciate it, it's a perfect Boxing Day movie: fun, frothy and the kind of film that requires only a handful of synapses to be firing in order to appreciate it.

Larry (Stiller) is one of life's tryers; a man who despite his best efforts is going nowhere fast and who is desperately trying to hold down a job in order to give his young son some stability. One job offer catches the eye, namely the position of night guard at the Museum of Natural History, and once he's been given the tour by the departing guards (including Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney), Larry is hired on the spot. Obviously all is not as it seems, as once night falls, the exhibits come to life and run riot throughout the museum, thanks to the handy plot device of an ancient Egyptian tablet residing in the basement. That's about that as far as the plot goes; it's simply a recipe to serve up some Jumanji-esque animal chaos, shoehorn in more cameos than the brain can process and see Ben Stiller get beaten up by a monkey. It's pure distilled entertainment for the kids and a pleasant distraction for the grown-ups: never has the phrase 'fun for all the family' felt more appropriate.

Front and centre of the rampant exhibits is the T-Rex skeleton, a wonderfully animated creation with the brain of a canine that runs free around the museum in search of a bone to chase (usually one of his own). Elsewhere, there's 26th President of the United States Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) who is always on hand to dispense some valuable information, Owen Wilson's miniature cowboy Jed and Steve Coogan's diminutive Roman general Octavius (who are at war with one another) plus cavemen, Vikings, Mongols, a talking Easter Island statue and all manner of historical figures gone doolally. The production values here are top-notch - the design of some of the exhibits are visually striking, particularly the faceless Civil War soldiers and the 20ft Jackals guarding the mummy's tomb. There's very little in the way of dodgy CGI and shots always bustle with activity: rogue exhibits, animal and human, are forever roaming the halls behind Stiller's brow-beaten guard.

Frankly it's an adventure in itself trying to keep up with the star-studded cast - blink and you'll miss lesser stars like Jack Davenport and Paul Rudd. The only guest star with a substantial role is Ricky Gervais' museum manager, a carbon copy of David Brent down to the mannerisms and the superiority complex. It's a miracle that the director of The Pink Panther and Cheaper By The Dozen managed to amass such a stellar cast. I mean, Mickey Rooney? Who knew the guy was still alive? However, this is no soulless succession of stars - everyone involved looks like they're having a bloody good laugh. Wilson should play a tiny pocket cowboy in all of his movies and Coogan doesn't even bother trying to pretend he's anything other than Partridge personified, meaning you've got a tiny Roman general straight from the hills of Norwich. Rooney is great value for money (his first line, startled upon being woken up: "I'll punch him with my fist!") as is good old DVD; it seems solving midday murders hasn't dampened his ability as an entertainer. Indeed, Van Dyke's presence lends a great deal of credulity to the movie, reinforcing that fantastic Boxing Day feel.

Stiller plays to his strengths once more, meaning his monkey face gurns all the same gurns (even that baby voice gets a run-out again), but his role doesn't really require much more than running around and looking perturbed. He does get a few golden moments though, high points being his bitch-slapping of a tiny monkey and his speech to the Civil War soldiers ("South, guys... sorry... you lost, but don't worry. You get the Allman brothers... and NASCAR."). This might be bread and butter for him, but even at half-capacity he's still a dependable leading man and a solid physical comedian.

Whether Night At The Museum would be quite so much fun at any other time of year, I'm not exactly sure: all I know is that with a gut full of Christmas crap and a brain struggling to kick into second gear, it was highly entertaining. Strip away the cameos, the CGI and the comedy coups and you'd have little more than a movie tailor made for the Nickelodeon crowd, but that would be robbing it of its charm. After all, no one wants to watch Citizen Kane on Boxing Day, do they? Not while there's still chocolates to eat.

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