338 – Night at the Museum

When you hear about a wild movie set in a stodgy museum with Ben Stiller as a harried night watchman, you think one of two things: “That sounds GREAT! Because I heart Ben Stiller!” or “This is going to be the suckiest bunch of suck that ever was, because Ben Stiller’s in it.” Ben’s sort of a polarizing comedy figure in movies these days; people are either enthralled by his mugging and one-note performances, or they’re not. Ordinarily, I fall among the latter group: The guy just kind of skeeves me out a little. I don’t think he’s funny. His deadpan deliveries do nothing for me. They do nothing!

And yet in Night at the Museum, Stiller’s inabilities don’t matter a whit. How could they, when the main focus is on the CGI special effects and supporting performances? See, it actually helps here that Stiller’s so annoying and dull, because for the most part all he has to do is react to the mayhem around him. He doesn’t have to have a take-charge personality, really.

Stiller is Larry, a sad-sack, sometimes-employee jack-of-no-trades who reluctantly accepts a job as the night watchman at the Museum of Natural History in New York. The departing guards, led by Cecil (Dick van Dyke), tell Larry to read the instruction manual, and as it turns out that’s good advice, as the museum’s exhibits – animals, historical figures, what have you – all come to life after dark. Some, like Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) roam the museum freely, while others, like the miniatures from the Old West and Roman Empire displays, are stuck in their glass (plastic?) enclosures. Oh, and the giant T-Rex skeleton comes to life, too, but it’s really just a big ol’ puppy dog, yes it is, so that’s not too dangerous, either. No, the real problem is that if any of these denizens gets out of the museum, he or she turns to dust. Dust, I say! That could get messy.

Plus, Larry’s dealing with home issues, as his son Nick (Jake Cherry) thinks his dad’s a big stinkin’ loser who can’t do anything right, which isn’t much different than how most people think of Ben Stiller, anyway; Nick’s drifting away from Larry, psychologically, and toward his stepdad, who seems more solid and stable. Meanwhile, Larry’s trying to meet cute with the museum’s tour guide, Rebecca (Carla Gugino), because it’s illegal in forty states to have a comedy without a love interest of some kind, and the monkeys don’t count.

Anyway, despite the Stiller casting, which often seemed like a bad decision, the movie’s pretty damn funny. And it oughta be, since it was written by two of the guys behind Reno 911! – Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. Plus, it has noted funny people like Williams (who’s very good, actually reining in his zaniness just enough; he manages to lend gravitas to the role) and Owen Wilson (who steals every scene, chews it up, and vomits funny) who allow Stiller to just sit there and, to quote Wilson’s Jedadiah, take it like a man. Well, comically speaking. Serving as the comic foil to Wilson (who plays a miniature Old West cowboy who’s a little sensitive about his height) is Steve Coogan, who plays Roman emperor Octavius. Yes, history be damned, the cowboys and the gladiators are constantly waging war against each other.

The movie is that it never really takes itself too seriously – i.e., you never have Great Important Issues that Larry must face, alone, in order to Save the Day. The only thing that’s grand and sweeping about this movie is the awesome special effects, which are whimsical and fun without being intrusive.

Adding to the fun are the three actors playing the retiring/fired, aged museum guards – some nobodies called Dick van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs. These guys don’t look like they’ve lost a step with their comic timing, and how great is it to see Rooney piping up every few minutes with a snarly catchphrase-worthy line like “Listen up, lunchbox!” These guys more than make up for the sad-sack Stiller. Which leads me to the one real debit of the movie – there are a few too many times in which Stiller’s Larry must Take Charge, and as an actor he just doesn’t convey that sort of attitude well. He’s a good supporting actor, but I think someone with a little more panache – but still with a light comic touch – would have been a much better fit.

***

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One Response to “338 – Night at the Museum”

  1. toty Says:

    i would love to see it again but ican’t download it it is fantastic

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