Night at the Museum (20th Century Fox, PG)

nightmonkey Larry's new workplace is populated with more intriguing characters than most films would know what to do with. He discovers oddities around every corner: mischievous Neanderthals, a pesky monkey, feuding Civil War soldiers, a rambunctious T-Rex, and miniature cowboys.

 

 

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I know what you've been thinking this holiday season: How would miniature cowboys hog-tie a grown man? Well, wonder no more; Night at the Museum has the answer.

Divorced dad Larry (Ben Stiller) is faced with the prospect of moving yet again because he can't make the rent. Ex-wife Erica (Kim Raver) has been supportive of his (often ill-planned) moneymaking schemes, but can't bear to watch their son Nick (Jake Cherry) become any more disappointed in his father. Her advice for regular employment falls on deaf ears, but it sinks in when Nick asks, "What if you're just an ordinary guy who has to get a job?" Damn, what parent wouldn't try for the first opportunity they could get after being called out by their 10-year-old like that? Larry just doesn't know that he's about to get more than he bargained for with this position.

Larry gets sent to interview for a night guard job at a museum, and is greeted by three old-timers: disciplined Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), crotchety Gus (Mickey Rooney), and dignified Reginald (Bill Cobbs). The three retiring guards decide he's fit for the post, and when Larry returns to begin his shift he's given the keys, a flashlight, a set of instructions, and a curious warning from Cecil: "Don't let anything in… or out."

OK, the divorced-dad-trying-to-impress-the-kid setup for Night at the Museum isn't exactly novel, but the fantasy premise that unfolds thereafter is pretty original, giving the whole family plenty to enjoy. Brisk pacing and a well-thought-out setting keep it all moving, and a few clever twists stop the premise from getting stale. The mundane setup works, because anything more complicated would take away from the true focus of the film.

Which is the museum, of course. Larry's new workplace is populated with more intriguing characters than most films would know what to do with. He discovers oddities around every corner: mischievous Neanderthals, a pesky monkey, feuding Civil War soldiers, a rambunctious T-Rex, and the aforementioned miniature cowboys—all of whom come to life every night, testing Larry's wits (and patience) as he tries to keep order.

Bringing them to life are top-notch CGI and makeup work. The filmmakers chose just the right amount of believability and cartoonishness for each of the living anachronisms. For instance, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) looks accurate and real, but he's offset by an ostrich with a fondness for dance.

Night at the Museum isn't exactly a character study, so the fact that most of the performances only reach adequate should not be surprising. Stiller, seen here in an exaggerated-character free state, has underdog written all over him, and he's a natural in the role of a dad desperate to finally impress his kid. There are cameos aplenty here, and Stiller is joined by comedy favorites such as Williams, Owen Wilson, and Ricky Gervais (from BBC television's The Office). The real fun in the performances, however, comes from watching Van Dyke, Rooney, and Cobbs as a sort of elderly Three Stooges. There's enough comedic moxie left in that troika for a sequel. | Adrienne Jones

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