Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Skyler Gisondo, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Rami Malek, Ben Kingsley, Mizuo Peck, Crystal the Monkey
Small role: Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: David Guion, Michael Handelman
Review published December 19, 2014
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is the third film in the already overextended franchise that started with the modest premise of a night guard encountering many dangers and delights when the exhibits of a museum come to life at night. We've seen the venue change from New York to the Smithsonian in Washington DC, and now we're in England's British Museum, and with new museums, we get new displays to keep the cute characters coming at regular intervals.
The thin premise involves Larry (Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and a cohort of his favorite museum displays having to travel to that London museum in order to find out how to stop the magical Egyptian tablet that can bring the inanimate to life from corrosive effects that will permanently kill its power.
Shawn Levy (This is Where I Leave You, The Internship) returns as a director and he's clearly on autopilot now, merely hitting predictable beats at predetermined intervals, with absolutely nothing new to add to the series, save for a new set of museum displays to animate. The jokes are stale and unimaginative -- we're treated to not just one, but two instances of a Capuchin monkey urinating on characters for laughs. Desperate stuff.
The worst parts of this already bland film involve Larry's attempts to cajole his rebellious son (Gisondo, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) to go to college after the lad expresses a desire to not only take a year off to find himself, but doesn't really desire to follow any particular path his father has tried to put him on. The son is completely unlikeable as a character, and no comedic opportunities are afforded whatsoever. It also begs the question as to what happened to the potential romance between Larry and the woman who was the spitting image of Amelia Earhart at the end of Battle of the Smithsonian, but it's understandable that Amy Adams wouldn't want to come back to a role that she's clearly outgrown. Not so lucky is Robin Williams, whose posthumous appearance certainly brings an extra element of sadness to the production, especially in how little he's actually utilized to get laughs -- his sole time to shine consists of a scene in which he just spouts off famous presidential quotes.
As the plot is thin, there's a lot of filler with side characters, including Octavius (Coogan, Philomena) and Jedediah (Wilson, The Grand Budapest Hotel) falling through an air vent and ending up in a replica of ancient Pompeii, Lancelot (STevens, The Guest) crashing a West End stage production of "Camelot" starring Hugh Jackman, and lots of not-too-funny broad slapstick involving Larry trying to corral an energetic caveman he's named Laaa who happens to be his spitting image.
Based on the sheer amount of time Levy spends wrapping this rather scant 90+ minute film to its closure, one gets the sense that this is meant to be the final film in the franchise. Alas, these final emotional scenes ring hollow, as all of these one-joke characters have no dimension to them. A series of movies that are built solely on the premise of perpetual comical distractions doesn't earn the right to ask us to care, and what was just an uninventive excursion to print more money for the studio is now encroaching into becoming cloyingly intolerable.
As with the first two disposable films, Secret of the Tomb is meant to consume and forget. It's by far the dullest and least inspired of the three films, and despite a robust Dan Stevens performance as the comically heroic Sir Lancelot, the juice has definitely run out of the batteries that is keeping this series alive. Fittingly, this D.O.A. entry ends with "Tomb" in its title, leaving one to wonder if the next entry, should there ever be one, might be called Night at the Mausoleum.
©2014 Vince Leo