Monday, December 22, 2014


Beyond its worldwide haul of $560 million, the “Night at the Museum” movies may not be remembered as the most thought-provoking family-friendly film franchise, but they were neither monotonous nor obnoxious.  The final installment “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tablet” (*** OUT OF ****) folds up the franchise neatly with fond farewells to both the late Robin Williams and the even later Mickey Rooney, while it doesn’t wear out its welcome with maudlin sentimentality.  Shawn Levy, who directed both “Night at the Museum” (2006) and “Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian” (2009), is back at the helm, but scenarists Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon didn’t pen this entry.  Nevertheless, this featherweight, PG-rated, 97 minute, CGI-laden saga with slapstick galore maintains sufficient momentum.  Comparatively, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” isn’t as exciting as “Night at the Museum.”  Ben Stiller is still resourceful as museum security guard Larry Daly.  Moreover, Stiller does double duty and also plays a wacky Neanderthal caveman who believes Larry is his pater familias.  This constitutes one of several running gags throughout “Secret of the Tomb.”  While they appear briefly at the outset, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs are given far less to do than they did as the kleptomaniacal security guards in the above-average original.  In his last film performance, Oscar-winner Robin Williams co-stars again as Rough Riding President Theodore Roosevelt.  Enhancing continuity even more, Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are back respectively as pint-sized cowpoke Jedediah and Roman centurion General Octavius.  These two tykes score some of the largest laughs, particularly when they utilize an enormous contraption to post Internet messages.  Ricky Gervais returns as persnickety museum director Dr. McPhee; Patrick Gallagher as Attila the Hun; Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah; and Mizuo Peck as Sacajawea. The only change is actor Skyler Gisondo has replaced Jake Cherry as our hero’s teenage son Nick; Cherry played Nick in the two earlier epics.  Indeed, Larry and Jake’s deliberations about the latter’s collegiate future could have been left on the cutting room floor.  Otherwise, little has changed despite the passage of years.  British actress Rebel Wilson, making her debut as Larry’s counterpart, a nocturnal British Museum security guard, adds ample spontaneity.  “Downtown Abbey” star Dan Stevens fleshes out the cast as Sir Lancelot, one of the British Museum exhibits who comes to life, too.  

“Dinner for Schmucks” scribes David Guion & Michael Handelman and Levy freshen up the franchise the third time out with background history surrounding the mysterious Tablet of Akmenrah.  Remember, this gilded Egyptian antique is what enabled the inanimate museum exhibits--whether they consisted of wax, bone, or stone--to cavort about after dark as if they possessed life.  “Secret of the Tomb” unfolds in sun-scorched Egypt back in the year 1938 with an “Indiana Jones” prologue.  A joint Anglo-American archeological expedition is searching for a rare artifact, when Chief Archaeologist Robert Fredericks (Brennan Elliott) shoos his meddling son, Cecil (Percy Hynes-White), off the site.  Quite by accident, the unsuspecting Cecil stumbles onto the mother lode when the ground collapses under him and he plunges into the pharaoh’s burial chamber.  Nothing really hair-raising occurs, but this atmospheric incident sets the stage for all subsequent hilarity.  Naturally, the locals are more anxious about the tablet’s discovery than the myopic archaeologists.  Indeed, they warn these outsiders that nothing good can come of this discovery.  Eighty years or thereabouts later, the sacred tablet that resembles a colossal keypad displays signs of sea-green corrosion.  This oxidization takes a toll on the fixtures so they behave in a menacing manner.  During an after-dinner gala fundraiser for museum donors in New York City, pandemonium erupts when the exhibits run rampant and frighten everybody.  This debacle deprives Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais of “Cemetery Junction”) of his job as curator.  Young Egyptian King Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek of “Need for Speed”) suggests Larry (Ben Stiller) fly the afflicted stone tablet back to the British Museum where his astute father, Pharaoh Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley of “Exodus”), who is one of the exhibits, can clarify what ails the artifact.  Of course, the incredulous Dr. McPhee believes none of the claptrap Larry feeds him.  Nevertheless, he conspires to help our sincere hero gain access to the facility without arousing suspicion.  Evidently, sneaking into a London museum after hours doesn’t constitute anything death-defying where British homeland security is concerned.  The last thing Larry does before he flies off to handle these hi-jinks is quiz elderly Cecil (Dick Van Dyke of “Mary Poppins”) about what transpired in Egypt.  Eventually, Larry and his eccentric posse, including Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Native American princess Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan),Larry’s son Nick (Skyler Gisondo), a Neanderthal nitwit named Laa (Ben Stiller), and the adorable capuchin monkey Dexter (Crystal the Monkey) bluff their way past a loquacious security guard, Tilly (Rebel Wilson of “Fever Pitch”), who has no clue about their intentions.  Once they enter the London Museum, our heroes find themselves up to their necks in anarchy orchestrated principally by the conceited, sword-wielding, legendary, Round-Table Knight, Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), who appropriates the enchanted tablet for himself without realizing the ultimate jeopardy that he threatens one and all into before dawn.

The computer-generated shenanigans of the strange London exhibits, a rambunctious triceratops fossil, are every bit as comical and imaginative as the Big Apple exhibits.  The highlight of the London mayhem occurs when Larry and Teddy pursue the elusive Lancelot inside an M.C. Escher staircase painting.  Predictably, Dexter makes the biggest splash when he gives Jedediah and Octavius a golden shower to save them from the devastation in the Pompeii exhibition.  One of the most surprising surprises occurs during Lancelot’s interruption of the stage play “Camelot,” when he contends with actor Hugh Jackman.  As entertaining as the third outing is, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” surpasses neither “Night at the Museum” nor “Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian.”

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