Night at the Museum
Director: Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther[2006])
Screenplay: Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
Book: Milan Trenc
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Bob Ducsay, Shawn Levy
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Dick Van Dyke, Owen Wilson, Jake Cherry, Ricky Gervais
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 108 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     Ben Stiller has slipped a few notches for many of us over the past few years. It feels like he's just trying too hard to be funny when his brand of humour may have outstayed its welcome. So here, Stiller is attempting something a little more fresh: a kids movie. Looking at this movie from the perspective of an 8 year old, it's almost perfect.

      Stiller plays Larry; a divorced father of one son struggling to maintain a semblence of stability for his son. As one who struggles to maintain employment, he lands a job as a night security guard at a donwtown Museum. Put simply, everything at the museuem comes to life at night. Atilla the Hun, Teddy Roosevelt, civil war mannequins, cavemen, lions and monkeys all literally take on life and create havoc for Larry each and every night. Somehow, he has to manage to keep the museum in one piece and everything must look as it did at closing time before the day shift curator (Gervais) comes in for his morning inspection. Besides a couple smaller, minor sub-plots, that's basically it.

      This obviously isn't a movie that strives for perfection or Oscar consideration, but accomplishes what it sets out to do extremely well. Though I wouldn't recommend taking a date to this movie or even choosing this for a rental some evening to pass the time, it works terrifically well as a kids film. I was shockingly and happily surprised to see very few of the kids in the packed theater losing their patience. Aside from a couple normal outbursts of inquiry to parents and loads of laughter, every kid in the audience seemed glued to the action that was happening on screen. And I have to admit, as cute-sy and shallow as it is, I rather enjoyed the shenanigans myself.

      Stiller plays down his usual sarcasm a bit, though it's still present in relevant scenes and could illicit some chuckles from adult audience members. Dick Van Dyke shows he still has what it takes to make a fun comedy and Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan's constant bickering as two miniature "action figures" from the wild west and The Roman Empire respectively, have high entertainment value as well. The other human actors are sort of just there. It's the non-human characters that really steal the show and make for a circus of history that takes on a life of its own.

      The special effects are far from laughable. I was fully expecting some B-rated effects shots that would compare with early 80's films. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, though it's really nothing new, it was impossible to differentiate between the real and the unreal. Narnia's Aslan pales in comparison to the lions in this film, though admittedly some of these shots use real lions. A skeletal frame of a T-Rex running about next to a wooly mammoth and various other creatures couldn't really be done any better.

      Sure the story isn't all that deep and even when it tries to be it fails miserably. The side story of Larry trying to win the heart of his son and a female love interest is almost an afterthought and not explored very well. But still, kids (or I) don't really care. They want monkeys and explosions and huge armies comprised of little, tiny men attacking a slapstick night guard with bows and arrows. And on this level, Night at the Museum delivers exceptionally well.

      Because there are so many characters and exhibits within this museum, the possibilities for amusing encounters are nearly endless. Stiller takes advantage of many of these possiblities and does it well. As a thrity-something usually looking for something with a little more dramatic flair or violence, I can't really highly recommend Night at the Museum; though it's enjoyable enough to watch with your young ones. But the 6-12 year old in me screams greatness. It is full of life, energetic action sequences and adventure that unleashes imagination. There are no bad words or innuendos and it isn't anything that will even scare the littler ones. You may even learn something about history. This is, in my opinion, the perfect family film this winter.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Night at the Museum