Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014)
Release Date: December 19th, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Shawn Levy Actors: Ben Stiller, Rebel Wilson, Owen Wilson, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ben Kingsley, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Rachael Harris
hawn Levy’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” features a supporting performance by Robin Williams and a cameo appearance by Mickey Rooney. We all know that they both died this year, the former quite unexpectedly, the latter perhaps imminently but nonetheless tragically. The sad thing, apart from the shadows cast by their deaths, is that the film, which has been dedicated to their memories, just isn’t very good. None of the “Night at the Museum” films have been very good, and it’s for the same fundamental reason, namely a premise so deeply flawed that suspension of disbelief isn’t enough to get you through it. I can easily buy into the idea of an ancient Egyptian tablet that brings museum exhibits to life every night; what I can’t buy into is the idea that these exhibits somehow know the life stories of the people they represent. There’s just no way this would be possible, not even in the context of a fantasy.
I’ve made this complaint twice before. With any luck at all, I won’t find myself in a position to make it again, because there are only so many ways to say the exact same thing. I hold similar views about the film’s sense of humor, a lot of which carries over from its predecessors. In the eight years since the release of the first film, I’m still not particularly amused by the sight of a urinating monkey, and I’ve yet to warm up to an unfortunate trend in comedy films, namely forcing a joke to run on and on and on despite not being all that funny to begin with. In the case of this new film, I certainly didn’t laugh at a resurrected Egyptian pharaoh, played by Ben Kingsley, fondly reminiscing about the 4,000 Jews he once owned and mistakenly believed were happy. There’s a very fine line between satire and insensitivity, and this joke crosses it. Isn’t it strange, incidentally, that Kingsley was only last week playing one of those “happy” Jews?
After a brief prologue sequence depicting a 1930s archeological expedition in Egypt, we’re reintroduced to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), who since the previous film has made yet another career transition – he’s now the director of nighttime operations at New York’s Natural History Museum, where he started as a night watchman. Neither his title nor his position is clearly defined, although we do see him coordinating a gala dinner party for the museum, for which the animate exhibits perform for the guests. Naturally, everyone assumes that the exhibits, including a field of constellations, are either hired actors or an elaborate display of special effects. Be that as it may, the festivities dramatically end when the exhibits suddenly lose control and behave aggressively, even dangerously. It’s soon discovered that it has to do with the magical tablet, which is slowly being consumed by a corrosive green substance.
Fixing the tablet requires Daley – along with several of his exhibit friends, including Teddy Roosevelt (Williams), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), and the scatalogical moneky Dexter – to travel to London’s British Museum and find Ahkmenrah’s father, the pharaoh Merenkahre (Kingsley), who understands the magic the tablet contains. Their efforts are undermined by a newly animated museum exhibit, Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), who, in his belief that he’s not merely a wax recreation of a fictional character, mistakes the tablet for the Holy Grail and tries to claim it as his own. Daley must also sidestep the museum’s odd security guard, (Rebel Wilson), who immediately takes a liking to another one of Daley’s accompanying exhibits, a hairy neanderthal that likes to eat styrofoam peanuts (also played by Stiller).
Let’s set aside the plot holes created by the tablet’s magical abilities – which would, incidentally, only affect Ahkmenrah and his father, given how they didn’t start out as wax recreations but rather as actual mummified remains. Let’s instead focus on Lancelot. He wears, as all medieval knights once wore, full body armor, complete with a helmet. This means that during the day, when the tablet’s magic would be ineffective, he would be nothing more than a wax figure covered with armor. I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to believe that anyone working in a museum, in London or elsewhere, would bother suiting up a detailed, life-sized wax mannequin, especially if the helmet is positioned to obscure the face. If memory serves, suits of armor are typically hung in sections, completely hollow. Now let’s focus on a scene where Jedediah and Octavius find themselves in a miniature recreation of Pompeii, behind which stands a miniature recreation of Mount Vesuvius that actually does erupt and spew real molten lava into their path. Even with the magic of the tablet, how can a tiny man made volcano release genuine lava? And wouldn’t it take much more than a stream of monkey urine to cool it down?
There are two jokes that I admit made me chuckle. One comes right after Kingsley’s bothersome crack about the Jews; Stiller’s character, with whom Kingsley’s is conversing, has to explain that the Jews weren’t at all happy under Egyptian rule and that they wandered the desert for forty years: “We have dinner once a year and talk about it,” he says. The other is when the newly animated sculpted lions in Trafalgar Square get distracted by a spot of light on the pavement and become playful and kittenish. But these moments hardly make up for the less adequate aspects of “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” such as an unnecessary, underdeveloped subplot involving Daley’s fatherly struggle to let his now teenage son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) find his own way in life, a way that may not involve attending college. There’s also the whole issue of the magical tablet, but I think I’ve said all there is to say about that.
– Chris Pandolfi