Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: "Night at the Museum" Proves that Mediocre Can Still Be Good

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 256 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Night at the Museum (2006)
Running time: 109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild action, language, and brief rude humor
DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
WRITERS: Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon; from their screen story based upon the novel by Milan Trenc
PRODUCERS: Chris Columbus, Shawn Levy, and Michael Barnathan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Navarro
EDITOR: Don Zimmerman


Starring: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Jake Cherry, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Kim Raver, Steve Coogan, Mizuo Peck, Rami Malek, Charlie Murphy, Paul Rudd, Patrick Gallagher, and Owen Wilson

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a good-hearted dreamer who thinks he’s destined for something big, but his lack of a steady job means he’s always being evicted from his apartment. He’s also a divorced father with a 10-year old son, Nick (Jake Cherry). His ex-wife, Erica (Kim Raver), delivers an ultimatum: Nick can’t stay with Larry until Larry has a stable living situation. Nick certainly has that with Erica, an attorney, and her new husband, Don (Paul Rudd), a bond trader, and Nick admires Don, which bothers Larry a little.

Larry eventually gets a job as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where an extraordinary thing happens when the sun goes down. At night, all the exhibits come to life. Mayans, Roman Gladiators, and cowboys emerge from their dioramas to battle one another. African mammals, cavemen, and even Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) roam the halls of the museum at night. The one exhibit Larry can turn to for advice is a wax statue of President Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), that comes alive on his black stallion and helps Larry get the denizens of the museum under control.

The magical happenings at the museum come with one stipulation – nothing must enter or leave the museum at night. Still, something does go wrong. Larry has to stop a nefarious plot in order to save the museum and its inhabitants and maybe prove himself in his son’s eyes.

Night at the Museum is one of those films that work best during the feel good Christmas holidays. Warm and fuzzy, this family flick is chock full of magic and a sense of wonder. It also looks and acts like the mid-90’s CGI creature rampage movie, Jumanji, and some of the CGI and special effects look dated. The writers over-emphasize Larry’s quest to be a good dad, and some of the humor is forced. The writers make the women in the movie stock characters, and they’re little more than accessories to make male characters feel better about themselves.

Director Shawn Levy does give the film the same kind of frothy fun he did with the 2003 holiday hit, Cheaper by the Dozen. Night fairly hums with mystery and enchantment, thanks in no small part to Levy’s creative team. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, whose specialty is fantasy and supernatural films (From Dusk Till Dawn) and even family films (Stuart Little and Spy Kids) creates a look for the movie that is a sweet mix of charmed sepia and gooey warmth. Costume designer RenĂ©e April does work worthy of Oscar notice with a variety of costumes that span the history of human clothing, and Alan Silvestri’s score hits all the right notes in creating an atmosphere of action, adventure, magic, and mystery.

Ben Stiller tends to play characters that are edgy, smart-mouthed and sometimes annoying, but his Larry Daley is a good guy. He’s more genial than jerk, and Stiller has a nice way of making Daley’s smarty attitude always bubble under the surface without ever coming up. Jake Cherry makes a lovable son, and Robin Williams is subdued.

In spite of its faults and missteps, Night at the Museum is just that kind of movie that can turn an adult who isn’t too jaded into a kid wide-eyed at the wonder and magic of what is essentially an entertaining and amusing children’s movie.

5 of 10

Sunday, December 24, 2006


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