Magazine article Variety

'Museum' Finale Exhibits Sly Intelligence

Magazine article Variety

'Museum' Finale Exhibits Sly Intelligence

Article excerpt

The past may be immortal, but not so the reanimating magic that turns New York's American Museum of Natural History into a duskto-dawn happy hour for dinosaurs and Neanderthals, explorers and conquerors, and a capuchin monkey with an overactive bladder. Such is the dilemma this motley crew (once more under the leadership of Ben Stiller's harried night watchman) faces in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," a most enjoyable capper to director Shawn Levy and producer Chris Columbus' cheerfully silly and sneakily smart family-entertainment juggernaut. A fond farewell, to the series and to two of its stars - Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams - "Tomb" offers few surprises, but should add much holiday cheer to Fox's box office coffers.

The "Night" movies haven't much endeared themselves to highbrow critics, but it's easy to understand the popular appeal of the franchise ($987 million worldwide and counting), which has cannily married state-of-the-art special effects to a high-concept premise (loosely adapted from Croatian author Milan TYenc's 1993 children's book). At the same time, the films have entertained a slyly subversive commentary on Americans and our relationship to history.

In the first film, the museum was in the midst of declining attendance and budget cuts, until word got out about the institution's enchanted nighttime special effects - the Disneyfication of history, if you will - and lines formed around the block. That satiric edge was dulled only slightly in the 2009 sequel, "Battle of the Smithsonian," as a still-beleaguered repository willingly divested itself of some of its venerable exhibits to make room for high-tech holographic avatars supposedly more appealing to the smartphone generation. So it's unsurprising that "Secret of the Tomb" brings things full circle by suggesting, gently but persistently, that the true magic of history needs no hocus-pocus accoutrements.

The path to such enlightenment is paved with 90-odd minutes of CGI-enhanced slapstick mayhem, starting with a black-tie dinner from hell - a gala reopening of the Hayden Planetarium during which the museum's lauded "animatronics" (as the public believes them to be) go haywire, pitting Manhattan's philanthropic elite against a rampaging T. rex and Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher). Something is amiss, it seems, with the gilded Tablet of Akmenrah, the ancient Egyptian relic responsible for the museum's mysterious powers. Solving the mystery entails making a trip to the British Museum, home of Akmenrah's parents, Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) and Shepseheret (Anjali Jay).

Of course, a new museum means a raft of other new characters, the standouts being "Downton Abbey" alum Dan Stevens as a vainglorious Sir Lancelot, and Rebel Wilson (clearly constrained by the movie's PG rating) as the Brit archive's sex-starved night guard. …

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