By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 2006 original was disappointingly thin and flat.
The 2009 follow-up was worse.
But both were commercial hits, so the inevitable second sequel and trilogy capper, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, is upon us.
That means we’ve now stayed overnight at this museum for three nights and eight years.
Once again, prehistoric creatures, ancient warriors, and legendary heroes, frozen in time, are brought to life after dark (not unlike the toys in the animated Toy Story flicks), hoping to help bring this special effects adventure to life as a CG-eye-opener.
Not so fast: although this third at-bat -– and presumably the final one — outdoes the last one, it does little more than match and resemble the first.
In other words, the bar has not been set terribly high, but at least it’s been reached.
The bare-bones plot: a portal to the underworld is inadvertently opened.
Ben Stiller returns as affable museum security guard Larry Daley, recently promoted to director of nighttime operations at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City. He discovers that there’s a glitch in the magically powered Tablet of Ahkmenrah, the ancient Egyptian relic that makes the exhibits come alive at night.
So he heads to the British Museum, embarking on a quest to try, with the help of some of the up-and-about museum attractions, to solve the mystery of just what’s going on and restore the tablet’s magic powers before they disappear forever.
More childish than childlike, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is loosely based on a 1993 children’s book by Croatian author-illustrator Milan Trenc.
Comedy specialist Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married, Date Night, Real Steel, The Internship), at the helm for a third time, directs his ploddingly-paced adventure from a cockamamie, committee-conjured screenplay by Robert Ben Garant, David Guion, Michael Handelman, and Thomas Lennon that talks down to its young target audience via its overcrowded, underemployed cast, and adds a halfhearted father-son subplot to the proceedings (with Skyler Gisonco playing Daley’s rebellious son) that feels grafted on to no avail.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb opens up with a snappy prologue set in Egypt in 1938, but the film becomes unnecessarily frenetic and seems to give up on itself almost immediately after the modern story begins.
Directing as if by remote control, Levy seems much more concerned with showing off his state-of-the-art special effects and setting up energetic slapstick moments than developing the story that they’re supposed to be in the service of.
This is, then, a fuzzy fantasy-comedy in which the figures come to life, but the movie they’re in doesn’t. Not as comedy, not as drama, not as spectacle: the trifecta!
Stiller plays a double role this time out, also turning up as Laa the Neanderthal, while cast returnees include the late Robin Williams (as Teddy Roosevelt in one of four films he completed that were not yet released at the time of his death), Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, and Steve Coogan -– to say nothing of Crystal the Monkey –- and Ben Kingsley, Rebel Wilson, Andrea Martin, and Dan Stevens join the fray for the first time.
But the law of diminishing returns sets in, the moment the museum doors swing open.
So we’ll open a portal to 2 stars out of 4 for the artifacts-after-dark museum piece, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.
Although young fans of the first two installments might feel that they’ve gotten what they came for, the third time is anything but the charm.