Weak ending to “Museum” trilogy

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First Posted: 12/30/2014

Ooo boy. Critics do not like the “Night at the Museum” series. It’s something I never really understood and this is coming from a dirty little man who’s more than willing to jump on top of the hate pile and wiggle his fanny to and fro as he despises things as varied as Charlie Chaplin or architecture or whatever.

Sure, Ben Stiller looks bored as he lazily goes through the motions of his pissy, neurotic persona and yes, I could personally go without a movie that feels the need to reassure me real treasure is knowledge even as a face slapping monkey aggressively panders to the dum-dums in the audience. But beyond that, what’s to hate, really? The comedy is sometimes smarter than expected, Robin Williams is surprisingly restrained and the supporting cast throughout the entire series is filled with ringers like Andrea Martin, Jonah Hill, Amy Adams and the great Steve Coogan.

Besides, it’s a kids’ movie. I know people usually say that to excuse all kinds of lazy garbage that is targeted at stupid, undiscerning children but the “Night of the Museum” films should be held to a different standard. This isn’t “Zoolander” or “Tropic Thunder”, this is a more sardonic version of “The Magic School Bus” or “Wishbone” or any of those other PBS shows I avoided as a child. Taken on those terms, “Night at the Museum” really isn’t that bad.

Now, with all of that said, I’m going to contradict myself slightly by noting the critics may have a point. At least in the case of “Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb”, mainly because it’s a truly unnecessary entry in the “Night at the Museum” saga that is treated by the cast and crew with the begrudging diligence of someone who’s forced to attend jury duty or fill in for a co-worker on their day off. Nobody really wants to be there and that includes the audience.

In this, the supposedly final film, in the “Night at the Museum” trilogy, the ancient Egyptian tablet that brings the museum exhibits to life every night is starting to deteriorate. As a result, Teddy Roosevelt (Williams), Attila the Hun (Patrick), Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and all of the rest of the eerie, undead displays at the Natural History Museum are slowly reverting back to their inanimate state. In order to save his friends, night watchman Stiller, must take the tablet to the British museum where it can be restored by the only man who knows its secret, a mummy named Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley). However, once there the tablet is snatched away by a wax Sir Lancelot figure (Dan Stevens) who, much like Buzz Lightyear in the first “Toy Story”, can’t quite come to terms with who or what he actually is.

It would be unfair to label “Night at the Museum 3” as slight considering the two previous films were just that. But at least the other films had plots that were a little more than a prolonged game of keep-a-way between its pained cast members. Apart from endless scenes of Stiller acquiring, losing and then reacquiring the mystical tablet of enchantment, there’s a useless subplot in which Stiller is forced to accept the fact his son is growing older, multiple shots of a creepily grinning monkey pissing on people and Rebel Wilson whose irritating presence inadvertently reveals Melissa McCarthy wanted too much money.

But hiding beneath the perfunctory levels of contractually obligated “entertainment” are genuinely inspired moments like a fight scene inside an M.C. Escher painting as well as brief unsettling shots of panicked mummies helplessly trying to get out of their display cases and headless Greek statuary silently shambling through the hallways of the British Museum. But scenes like this are the exception rather than the rule and more often than not “Secret of the Tomb” is all too content to recycle gags from the preceding movies or take swipes at not-so timely targets like “Dirty Dancing”. It’s a shame that something so inessential, so grating and so empty would not only be Robin William’s final film, but Mickey Rooney’s as well.