(On Cable TV, December 2015) The Night at the Museum series has its own unlikely formula perfected by this third installment: Magically-reanimated members of the New York museum exhibits get to travel to another museum on some irrelevant pretext, meet the local magically-reanimated characters, have special-effects-heavy adventures and go home. Director Shawn Levy is well-used to the formula by now and it shows in the strengths and weaknesses of the film. Ben Stiller mugs for the camera, everyone else hams it up, cheap jokes abound, there’s some Egyptian woo-woo to hold the jokes together and the movie ends before anyone gets exasperated. It’s familiar to the point that this third installment doesn’t get to try very hard to be witty or clever: Despite taking place at the hallowed British Museum, Secret of the Tomb seems rote and lifeless, coasting on familiar shtick (including a last vigorous Teddy Roosevelt performance by the late Robin Williams) but not pushing the envelope with any of its new characters — except, fitfully, Rebel Wilson’s security guard. The Hugh Jackman cameo is amusing and so is the M.C. Escher-inspired sequence, meaning that the film isn’t entirely on auto-pilot. But it does feel like a re-heated attempt to extend a concept past its prime, and this feeling that it’s about time that the show ends means that the final moments of the film aren’t as poignant as anyone would have liked. There are, thanks to the generous budget and the high-concept, a few things to see. But those aren’t quite enough to make Secret of the Tomb feel worthwhile as more than another attempt to rely on what worked in the previous films of the series. There may or may not be another installment –who cares at this point?
(On TV, May 2015) The weirdest franchises can emerge from Hollywood’s idea factory, and so what we have here is some kind of “museum comes to life, allowing historical characters to interact” CGI-fest, along with actors having up playing grander-than-life personas. This second Night at the Museum is a bit weirdly structured, with Ben Stiller’s protagonist somehow selling a company in order to keep prolonging the franchise. Oh well; it’s not as if we’re really watching the film for its finer plot points as much as Robin Williams once again having fun as Teddy Roosevelt, or Amy Adams really playing it up as Amelia Earheart, complete with snappy period dialogue. The rest of the film is almost entirely based on sight-gags, a copious use of CGI and plot mechanics aimed at kids. It sort-of-works, even though nothing really stick in mind except for Adams’ performance. There should be more to say about the film, but somehow there isn’t.
(In theaters, January 2007) See Ben Stiller mug for the camera! Mug, Ben, mug! Oh, no, now here comes Robin Williams! Mug, Ben, mug, Robin! Now here are dinosaur-shaped special effects! And Egyptian warriors! And cowboys! And romans! And monkeys! Wow, that’s whole lot of stuff! But who can’t stop mugging? It’s Robin! It’s Ben! This is a kid’s movie, because it hits adults over the head until they’re as dumb as kids! Yaaay, dinosaurs! Yaaay, monkeys!