[Screen It]


(2014) (Ben Stiller, Robin Williams) (PG)

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Comedy: A museum night guard and his museum figure friends -- that magically come to life at night -- travel to London in hopes of saving the ancient tablet that's responsible for keeping them alive.
At New York City's Museum of Natural History, Larry Daley (BEN STILLER) not only is the night security guard, but he's also the head of night programs there. With the opening of a new planetarium, he's been tasked by museum director Dr. McPhee (RICKY GERVAIS) to provide the "special effects," unaware of the reality behind them. As Larry discovered years ago, an ancient Egyptian tablet with magical powers brings various museum figures to life at night.

Along with former President Teddy Roosevelt (ROBIN WILLIAMS), there's Attila the Hun (PATRICK GALLAGHER); Egyptian prince Ahkmenrah (RAIMI MALEK); Lewis and Clark's Indian tracker Sacajawea (MIZUO PECK); miniature diorama figures cowboy Jedidiah (OWEN WILSON) and Roman emperor Octavius (STEVE COOGAN); several Neanderthals including one, La (BEN STILLER), who's been painted to look like Larry; a T-Rex skeleton; and a capuchin monkey known as Dexter.

But due to corrosion on the tablet, the figures act erratically, thus ruining the planetarium's opening night gala. In hopes of figuring out what's wrong, Larry convinces Dr. McPhee to allow him to take the tablet and Ahkmenrah (RAIMI MALEK) to London's British Museum to reunite the latter with his parents, Pharaoh Merenkahre (BEN KINGSLEY) and Queen Shepseheret (ANJALI JAY). Realizing his teenage son, Nick (SKYLER GISONDO), needs some direction in his life, Larry takes him along for the trip, unaware that Teddy and many other figures have snuck along as well.

Once he gets security guard Tilly (REBEL WILSON) to let him in, Larry discovers them, as well as the perils of the museum's holdings coming to life for the first time, including a triceratops skeleton. Luckily for them, Sir Lancelot (DAN STEVENS) springs to life and saves them, but then continues his quest to find the Holy Grail. Learning from Merenkahre that the tablet will only last until the morning without a fix of moonlight, Larry and his friends try to make that happen, all while dealing with various obstacles and setbacks along the way.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Despite living only about a half hour away from downtown Washington, D.C., I haven't been to many of the Smithsonian museums in years. That's not due to worrying about crowds, parking or not having the time to make the trek and go through the exhibits. Instead, it's because as of my last visits, I sort of felt like I'd seen everything already (sometimes multiple times) and found that many of the displays looked a bit old and worn. And not of the status that a fresh coat of paint or new carpet might fix. Instead, it felt like a major overhaul was in need.

Perhaps not that surprisingly, I had the same reaction upon seeing the latest "Night at the Museum" flick. While it's certainly not as old as our "nation's attic" -- the first offering arrived in December 2006 -- it has a dusty and musty aura about it that gives one the impression that it might be time to close this cinematic exhibit once and for all.

Paring down the cast of characters from the expanded museum universe that existed in the 2009 sequel, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," this third installment, which sports the title suffix of "Secret of the Tomb," starts with a brief prologue set nearly 80 years in the past before returning to the present in a few brief scenes set in the home habitat of New York's Museum of Natural History. There, things go spectacularly wrong for the museum's director (a criminally underused Ricky Gervais) at an opening night gala for a recent expansion.

It's then up to the museum's night guard and head of night programs (a returning Ben Stiller, still game for the chaotic shenanigans, but looking a bit tired) to figure out why the various museum figures (including those played by the returning cast of Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, and others) wildly behaved out of character. The answer seems to be in the mysteriously corroding magical Egyptian tablet that controls all of them, so Stiller sets off for London with the related Egyptian prince (Raimi Malek) to reunite him with his parents (including Ben Kingsley) and hopefully figure out what's going on and how to fix it.

As was the case in the previous films' museum locales, the figures and more in the British Museum come to life upon close contact with the tablet. Yet, the best that screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman could come up with is Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), a triceratops skeleton that ends up acting like a giant dog, and a brief encounter with a multi-headed snake demon statue, all "protected" by the night guard (Rebel Wilson) who, shock of all shocks, isn't terribly effective, let alone good at her job.

Much to the surprise of Larry the Cable Guy, uh, night guard, the rest of the main cast of museum figures has tagged along for the journey across the pond (including the addition of a dimwitted Neanderthal made up to look like him -- yes, also played by Stiller), as has his teenage son (Skyler Gisondo) who'd rather become a deejay on an island off Spain than go to college. Notwithstanding the familial "depth" the latter is supposed to bring, everyone else is present to deliver the action-filled laughs and antics one's come to expect from this franchise.

While returning young kids or those new to the fold might eat this up like before -- obviously not being discerning consumers of cinematic offerings -- most older teens and especially adults will likely find everything smelling a bit musty and looking a bit rough around the edges. That's not to say the special effects are bad, as they're decent, if not that inspired from a visual standpoint.

Instead, we've seen all of this before and notwithstanding a new setting and a few new display pieces, this is just more of the same. While there are a few funny lines (including about a certain Jewish holiday) and some fairly surprising cameos (including one from a major movie star appearing as himself and playing a bit with his signature role), everything else feels worn. I don't think this latest installment of the "Night at the Museum" signals it's time for renovations. Rather, it's more like the exhibit should be closed for good. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 13, 2014 / Posted December 19, 2014

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