Sunday 3 June 2007

Night at the Museum (2006) Shawn Levy

Larry Daley is a young man with a vision. Well, he has a lot of visions and none of them really get him anywhere. He also has a son, an ex-wife and an ex-wife's new husband who is far more of a consistent money earner than he is. So he needs to get a job and he gets the opportunity to interview for a job at the Museum of Naural History. The man he needs to see is Cecil, who is the security guard and apparently being downsized. He's not very young, to say the least, but he seems lively enough, even though he has an arthritic knee. He has two able assistants, Reginald and Gus, neither of whom are any younger than he is but they seem just as dedicated.

There's something very special about these three security guards, not just because they know what really happens in the museum at night (everyone comes alive because of some ancient Egyptian curse) but because they're played by Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs and Mickey Rooney. That's a serious amount of talent to be cramming into one room and they're obviously having a lot of fun with it. Having those three actors as the three wise men, so to speak, is a serious coup for the casting director and it's just a shame that they disappear from the screen so quickly, so that the lead actor can strut his stuff (fortunately they're back later but unfortunately they turn into the bad guys from Home Alone).

The other huge shame is that Larry Daley, so obviously a part for which Robin Williams was born to play, is played instead by Ben Stiller; who with the single exception of Jim Carrey, is so obviously a caricature of a human being and thus born to play caricatures not people. I'm actually looking forward to seeing him in Zoolander, because from what I've heard that's a caricature of a part by design, thus to Stiller what Ace Ventura, Pet Detective or The Mask were to Jim Carrey. I may not enjoy it but I may well appreciate it.

Larry Daley should be a person but is instead in the hands of Stiller a caricature. Robin Williams is in the film, but as Teddy Roosevelt instead of Larry Daley, so he gets to be yet another actor in the film to dominate over Stiller, however much heresy is involved in Roosevelt having a thing for Sacagawea but not having the balls to actually talk to her in fifty years. He gets to be more fun when he finds some control in his new position, but he's still Ben Stiller not Larry Daley. The control in Stiller's hands brings an unashamed arrogance that he's so good at. His other talent is for that arrogance to backfire and show him up. Having Larry's nemesis being not really Attila the Hun but Dexter the Capucean monkey is both entirely natural and absolutely perfect.

There are plenty of plotholes. People seem to work twenty minute shifts, Larry obviously doesn't need to sleep and everyone in the museum has a unnatural talent for pretty much anything including driving cars and speaking English, but the fun inherent in the story it is contagious and it quickly becomes apparent that my left testicle could be playing Larry Daley and the rest of it would still be fun. How many of the plotholes are due to the original book and how many to its translation to the screen I have no clue, but I'd guess that the book is certainly where the fun came from.

Having people like Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Ricky Gervais can't hurt, even though Wilson and Gervais are pretty much reprising their roles from Shanghai Noon and The Office. Steve Coogan and Jake Cherry (as Larry's son) don't have much to their parts but at least they're there. The film is far more fun than I was expecting it to be, but the concept knocked me out as much as the lack of time dedicated to most of the subplots was annoying. There's magic here and it had the potential of being something on the level of Jumanji, but it so completely isn't.

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