- Directed by Shawn Levy
- December 17, 2006 (NYC) / December 22, 2006 (US)
- Based on 1993 book The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc
A divorced father applies for a job as a night watchman at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History where the exhibits come to life at night.
Night at the Museum is a film that gets a good deal of praise-and deservedly so-but is not without its flaws. If you take a moment or three to think about what they give us you will see them. I certainly enjoyed the film but for me those issues are rather apparent. Let me try to explain.
Our main character of Larry (Ben Stiller) is an aimless dreamer who lacks any real focus or sense of responsibility. On the verge of eviction (apparently again) from his (latest) apartment and with a son named Nick (Jake Cherry) that’s increasingly disappointed in him, Larry takes a job at the American Museum of Natural History for $11.50 an hour to keep his apartment in New York City. I’m not exactly familiar with rent in Brooklyn but it seems unlikely that at $11.50 an hour Larry can afford monthly rent let alone food or utilities living by himself. Certainly couldn’t happen where I live. But then again this is a fantasy comedy so realism is not a main thing here.
As a character Larry does not get much of an arc. By the end of the film Larry doesn’t really learn much of anything. Larry winds up at the museum because he needs a steady job in order to not lose his apartment and upset his son. Despite all the weirdness he sticks with the job because he needs to keep a roof over his head and not upset his son. It’s a job he likes but he doesn’t learn to not be such a dreamer or really get a sense of responsibility. He just found a way to be cool with his kid.
Night at the Museum is a fun and fanciful story that tells how a parent finally finds a job that their son can respect. I keep coming back to this but honestly when you think about it Larry is not a great guy. And part of me would believe that once Larry got bored with this job he would move on to something else given the talk about his background. He’s a dreamer and has apparently moved from position-to-position pursuing whatever his latest dream was and never doing much to anchor himself or to build a future which would seem to indicate the main reason for his divorce from his wife who is now married to investment banker Paul Rudd. As with all dreamers of recent like Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson, Larry gets fired (twice in the film) by his boss Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) who runs the museum only to get his job back and return to the status quo.
Ricky Gervais shines in his brief moments as McPhee and it is a shame he was not integral or even somewhat significant to the story in order to participate more in events of the narrative. McPhee shows up, berates Larry, fires Larry, Larry says something, McPhee sees some new set of data, and then Larry gets rehired by McPhee. McPhee is a punchline and his scenes could have been removed with no effect at all on the story.
Carla Gugino plays museum guide Rebecca Hutman. She is the object of Larry’s affection and really not much else in the whole story. Nothing that Larry does in connection to being better at his job or with his son is directly connected to her. You could even look at the events of the film-specifically the exhibits coming to life-as a way for Larry to have an in with her because that is what everything in connection to her leads towards.
Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs play veteran nightguards Cecil Fredericks, Gus, and Reginald respectively. Rooney’s Gus takes an immediate dislike to Larry and flings some of the funniest insults at him that I have heard. They are the main threat in the story. This being the case is only hinted at in a line from Cecil when he’s on the phone to Larry. In the film the museum is cutting costs and replacing them with Larry. Our elderly night watchmen intend to steal just about everything they can and sell it in order to fund their retirement and that includes a magical gold tablet whose owner is a rather personable Egyptian mummy named Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek).
A few things get me about the exhibits coming to life. First of all apparently nobody else in the museum knows that the exhibits come to life at night. Over 50 years of that weirdness and nobody has a clue? At no point did one other person beyond the three night watchmen become aware of it. Another is that the tablet seems to invigorate the old men as stated by Cecil yet doesn’t do squat for Larry. Is it because the old men are near death and that just keeps them going? Or did nobody think it through? I don’t know.
Don’t think too deeply about some of these things. I haven’t gone to the sequels yet so maybe they get touched on there. And you really shouldn’t because despite the questions I have this is actually a fun movie. It’s about the bonding of a father and son and it does it with one of the more creative ways I have seen.
Night at the Museum makes the most of the scenario and even mines some really good scenes between Larry and the very talented Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt. I can’t think of anyone that could have better played the version of Teddy Roosevelt that got pushed into popular culture than Robin Williams. He’s alternately wise and energetic. Passionate and daring. Brave and loyal. And his love for Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck) though creepy when you think about it comes across as tender and sweet. He has quite possibly been only seeing this woman and never interacting with her for a very long time. That seems…creepy.
The finale hit rather suddenly. There’s a lot of set up of the way things work in the museum at night as well as that of Larry becoming comfortable in his situation and then we get to the wrap up. The film has hit its runtime and they needed a resolution. It is a big culmination to what was essentially a minor subplot of the theft as it barely took up much of Night at the Museum’s time. The finale makes up for that issue by being just enjoyable and fun and comedic as well as a touch bonkers. It’s got dinosaurs and cowboys and Roman centurions and horses. They throw everything the museum has into it and create something fantastic.
The thing that gets you pass the flaws is that this movie is well directed. They are no dead spots and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows exactly what it is and it has fun with being just that. Not enough movies can be just fun. Often they have to try to be something beyond what they are rather than entertain first. That is not an excuse for the issues, but it does make them easier to overlook.
Night at the Museum despite any issues I may have is an entertaining movie. It’s family friendly without being dull and boring. Adults can take a watch and you can feel safe letting your kids watch it too. I recommend this one!