Note that this film's title is NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM and not
A NIGHT or THE NIGHT. That's an important differential approaching
the movie. The key action unfolds after hours, when the patrons
have gone home and the workers have left for the day and only a
watchman on duty. That was the concept behind the children's book
by illustrator Milan Trenc. Set at New York City's Museum of Natural
History, the book followed a new night guard who falls asleep on the
job and awakes to discover that one of the dinosaur skeletons is
missing and that the statues have come to life. It's an intriguing and
enchanting idea for a story and a for a movie. As the main character
in the film notes, "history comes alive."

In turning Trenc's children story into a major motion picture,
screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have crafted
a structure that makes sense but which they fail to follow through
on. Garant and Lennon began their careers as members of the
sketch comedy troupe
The State and have worked on such TV shows
as
"Viva Variety" and "Reno 911" as well as the movies TAXI and
HERBIE: FULLY LOADED. Honestly, they work best in creating set
pieces. They are like playwright Paul Rudnick whose work is best
enjoyed in snippets, like eating a few bon-bons at a time and not
indulging in a whole box. To that end,
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is
not quite the sum of its parts.

Ben Stiller stars as Larry Daley, an inventor who seemingly
cannot hold a steady job. Divorced, he constantly disappoints his
young son Nick (Jake Cherry) much to the consternation of his ex-wife
(Kim Raver, wasted in a nothing role). When Nick starts to emulate
mom's new live-in boyfriend, a Wall Street investor (an amusing cameo
from Paul Rudd), Larry feels he has one last chance to prove himself.
So he goes to an employment agency where the counselor (Anne
Meara, in a weird bit of in-joke casting) sends him to the Natural
History Museum. It seems that a trio of aging guards (Dick Van Dyke,
Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs) are about to retire and require a
special replacement. After some hemming and hawing, Larry is
offered the gig which he accepts.

He is given a special book of handwritten instructions, the
keys and a flashlight. Larry's first night begins uneventfully, but
after he dozes off a bit, he awakens to find the place in chaos.
The dinosaur skeleton is running amok, statues are wandering
around, and he encounters trouble from a group of Neanderthals,
Attila the Hun, miniature Roman soldiers commanded by Octavius
(Steve Coogan) and miniature cowboys, the most obstreperous of
which is Jedediah (Owen Wilson -- who presence is almost
de rigeur;
I mean, has there been a film in which Ben Stiller starred that Wilson
has not at least had a cameo appearance?)

Larry is at a loss on how to proceed, especially after a playful
monkey named Dexter steals his instructions and shreds them.
In a last ditch effort, Larry seeks assistance from Teddy Roosevelt
(the ubiquitous Robin Williams). Over the course of several days,
Larry's mettle is tested when he must prove whether or not he has
the abilities to save the museum.

Director Shawn Levy manages to milk the maudlin aspect of
Larry's situation: will he once again disappoint his kid or will he
prove to be a good dad? Stiller does okay in the lead role but he
is outshown by his co-stars. Even shrunk down thanks to CGI,
Wilson and Coogan steal most of their scenes. Williams is his
tolerable. Carla Gugino appears as a docent in whom Larry confides
and Ricky Gervais has a couple of moments as the museum's
director.

Individual set pieces work nicely, but the story bogs down
and certain subplots are dropped almost entirely. For instance,
there is a sequence in which someone plants stolen items in
Larry's apartment to frame him but that matter is never played
out. Similarly, a key plot involving some nefarious goings on which
are part of the climax of the movie are never mentioned. It's sloppy
writing, nothing more.

Still audiences will probably eat up the action scenes.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM had the potential to be so much more and
in the hand of a real visionary, it could have been something.
As it is, it's a passable way to spend some time in the movie theater.


                Rating:                C-
                MPAA Rating:        PG for mild action, language, and
                                                brief rude humor
                Running time:       108 mins.

                Viewed at the AMC Loews Kips Bay
Night at the Museum
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.