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The best that can be said about NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB is that it is good-natured and harmless. This third in the trilogy has a whisper-thin plot stretched far too thinly to make the best use of its premise; and it is too flatly written to make the best use of its cast.
The premise, as you recall, is that Larry (Ben Stiller), the night watchman at New York’s Museum of Natural History, discovered that the exhibits at that venerable institution come to life after dark. With one thing and another, including a side trip to the Smithsonian in the last installment, Larry has become the guy in charge of nighttime events at the museum, inspiring awe and wonder at the impeccable nature of the special effects that bring, among others, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and a T-Rex to life. Larry’s life is finally working out, until a gala featuring the constellations sparkling overhead, and Dexter the Capuchin monkey doing acrobatic tricks amid them, goes wrong. The T-Rex goes on a rampage, Teddy points a rifle at Larry, and general chaos, with flames, ensue. The problem, as explained by Akh (Rami Malek) is that the magical Egyptian artifact that makes the magic is corroding, and the only way to save it, and the nocturnal lives it permits, is to get it to the British Museum where the Akh’s father, (Ben Kingsley), the pharaoh who commissioned it, can tell them how to stop the decay.
It’s a long trip, and I don’t mean the one from New York to London. With his son, Nick (Skylar Gisondo), Akh, Teddy, Dexter, and the usual suspects of Sacajawea (Mizuo Pack), Atilla the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), miniature exhibits cowboy Jed and Roman centurium Octavius (Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan), and the new Neanderthal that bears an eerie resemblance to Larry in tow, the intrepid night watchman tools around the British Museum, meeting up with a bold, brave, and clueless Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), fighting multi-headed Chinese snakes, and coming to terms with the fact that his son is growing up. The middle act is one long excuse for perfunctory dialogue and special effects, the latter of which are, to be fair, nicely rendered, including the Elgin Marbles stumbling about with what’s left of their limbs, a trip inside an Eshcer engraving, and a Garuda managing to be menacing and cute at the same time (the chirping is by Williams). Sure Rebel Wilson as a ditzy night guard at the British Museum is delightfully loopy, and Stevens’ contrast of bravura and empty head finds an irresistibly sillycharisma, but Stiller doing double-duty as Larry and Laaa the Neanderhthal ceases to be funny long before the schtick ends.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB tumbles effulgently into schmaltz so viscous that not even a cameo by Hugh Jackman can save the day. Kids will enjoy the rampaging dinosaur skeletons, the engorgement by lava of a miniature Pompeii, et als, but adults will find it a slog with few laughs to ease the time that passes very slowly indeed. It’s a bittersweet way to bid farewell to both Mickey Rooney, whose final film this is, and to Robin Williams, for whom this is the final live-action performance.