Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb adds a third film to an already tired franchise, one started in 2006 with an innovative, playful premise. Now, after a battle at the Smithsonian, the Ben Stiller-starring franchise takes a trip to London to discover a familiar set-up in an unfamiliar landscape. While the film series undeniably appeals to families looking for an escape for children, the film fails to deliver on any promising story fronts, instead allowing monkey pee and YouTube videos of cats obsessed with lights to take the forefront of the comedic punch. You know, those timely, relevant jabs. Tack on an element where, if I can describe him as such, a primitive, moronic version of Ben Stiller is played for laughs because Ben Stiller is acting next to himself in Neanderthal makeup. Oh, and the premise of the film’s conflict relies on going outside. That’s it. Nothing else. The supporting characters have devolved into archetypes, failing to expand upon them as people, and the film feels like an attempt to capitalize on a well-worn franchise in overseas markets rather than appeasing filmgoers looking for an enjoyable romp.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is still the night guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Their night walks are immensely popular, and the man in charge, Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais), wants to see an expansion to bring even more awareness to the exhibits. In an event for investors and other wealthy types, Larry’s showcase goes wrong when the walking, talking exhibits begin to turn on themselves and act aggressively different. Something’s gone horribly wrong, and Larry must find a way to save the exhibits before everything falls apart. Turns out it’s the golden tablet that belongs to Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), the son of the Pharaoh Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley). The tablet has begun to rust, and its magical power is falling to the wayside. Larry must take the Egyptian prince and other friends to London to visit the Pharaoh himself and find out what they can do to turn this curse around. Coming along on the journey are mainstays Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams), Jebediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), and Dexter (Crystal the Monkey).
When every decision within the film feels like a ploy for marketing purposes rather than narrative creativity, a film loses any impact as a work of entertainment. It feels grating, unsatisfying, and like a copout, leaving the film as an open book for future installments without any semblance of closure for a viewer. The introduction of Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) as a comedic foil is funny when first introduced but woefully grows tired, much like any of the film’s conflict. There are numerous subplots that have no relevance to the overall story, nor do they have any dramatic heft or purpose outside of a cheap, quick laugh drawn out for too long. Even the introduction of Rebel Wilson’s British security guard at their respective museum is painfully unfunny and never rises above slight amusement. A blatantly homoerotic relationship between Jebediah and Octavius peaks interest if only for its complete absurdity in such a safe, calculated landscape. The Night at the Museum franchise has never been a particularly ambitious narrative, but even the decision to tack on a happy-go-lucky epilogue after a worthwhile conclusion shows the unsure, conservative nature of the story. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is an inconsequential adventure. Audiences would be better off watching the first film again.
Grade: ★½ (out of 5)