Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014)
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Just like with Penguins of Madagascar a few weeks ago, I went into Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb having never seen any of the previous films with the series. Leaving the theater with James and Mary, I enjoyed myself a bit more than I did with that film -- not enough to make it a classic, but certainly enough to give it my recommendation. It leans more on wacky hijinks than on plot, but it's got charm, great special effects, and memorable characters in spades.
Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a night security guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York where, thanks to an ancient Egyptian artifact, all of the skeletons, dolls, statues, wax figures, mummies, taxidermied animals, etc. come to life at night. After the events of the last two films, Larry has made friends with these people and creatures, which include Theodore Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams), Sacajawea, a miniature cowboy and Roman centurion (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan), Attila the Hun, a capuchin monkey, and the Egyptian pharaoh Ahkmenrah. Unfortunately, something is wrong with the artifact -- it's starting to corrode, the result of its magic wearing out, and to figure out how to fix it, Larry, Ahkmenrah, and the rest must head to the British Museum in London, where the pharaoh's parents are kept, and learn the secret to repairing it. When they get there, of course, the magic starts affecting the exhibits there as well, complicating things for all involved.
The reason why this film (and I'm guessing the previous films) works is because of its all-star cast of comic veterans playing larger-than-life historical figures. Ever wanted to see Lancelot then battle a stegosaurus skeleton, or a cowboy escape from Pompeii (yes, the model volcano is also brought to life), or lion statues react to a flashlight like cats to a laser pointer? This film's got it, and more. Much of the plot here is, until the end, little more than an excuse to have Larry and co. literally run through history, going through each section of the museum and encountering the people and animals within, but the cast sold it and made it all quite funny. Robin Williams plays Teddy Roosevelt like the boisterous, over-the-top figure he was, Ben Stiller makes for a great everyman, and while it was kind of obvious that Dan Stevens' Lancelot was gonna be a bad guy, his story was still intriguing and surprisingly heartfelt. The only weak link was Rebel Wilson as the British night guard Tilly, and not for lack of trying -- she's barely in the film, her character limited to interacting with and falling for a Neanderthal (also played by Ben Stiller; in-universe, he was modeled after Larry) who tagged along for the ride. She's a funny lady, and has been funny in other films, so it's puzzling why she has barely any screen time here and gets nothing to do with her character.
The special effects are another standout here. While there were occasional moments of CGI iffiness, this was still a very good-looking movie, vividly bringing to life all of the exhibits even for blink-and-you'll-miss-'em gags (loved the paintings and stone carvings on the walls). And while the middle section could be pretty thin on plot, once we get our real villain the film really starts to take off, with the cameos by Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve certainly not doing anything to hurt it. This is especially true at the end; while the big climax didn't quite hit me, they couldn't have given a better sendoff to Robin Williams at the end.
Score: 3 out of 5
And it was close, deciding whether to give this a 3 or a 4. Still, it's a solid, funny, lightweight comedy that frequently had me and those I was watching it with laughing it up. Even if you don't have kids, consider checking it out.