By Chaz Lipp
Whether he’s starring in ultra-mainstream fare (Meet the Parents, the original Night at the Museum) or edgier material (Greenberg, Permanent Midnight), Ben Stiller is a formidable talent. His 2013 take (as director and star) on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was poorly executed, however, and he quickly retreated to safer ground with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. For a guy who satirized the laziness of big names who star in endless, mindless sequels (Tugg Speedman’s Scorcher series in Tropic Thunder), it’s distressing to see Stiller suit up yet again as Museum of Natural History security guard Larry Daley. He seems truly bored, which is understandable given the recycled gags served up in this childish hunk of big-budget junk.
This time around, the magical Egyptian tablet that brings the museum’s exhibits to life has begun to fail. In order to solve the mystery of the tarnished tablet’s diminished powers, Larry travels to England’s own natural history museum. There he will find Merenahre (Ben Kingsley), the pharaoh who created the tablet. Even though Tomb is a mercifully brisk 98 minutes, it’s padded with a horrendous, Indiana Jones-style prologue during which early-20th century adventurer Robert Fredericks (Brennan Elliot) discovers the tablet with his young son C.J. (Percy Hynes-White). The adult C.J. is played by Dick Van Dyke, returning in a cameo as the aging former security guard from the first film. He performs a “funny” dance at an old folks’ home that is one of the film’s more painfully embarrassing sequences.
Once in England, the tablet gets snatched by Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens). Larry, accompanied by series regulars President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), and Dexter the monkey (plus Larry’s Neanderthal doppelganger Laa), must retrieve the tablet in order for Merenkahre to restore its power. This was the last major studio role for Robin Williams and it’s hardly a fitting epitaph for the late comic genius. In fact, it’s downright depressing to see Williams stuck in such a humorless role. Roosevelt’s slow transition back to inanimate wax throughout the film only serves as a deeply sad reminder that we lost Williams earlier this year. Rather than laugh with him one last time, we are constantly reminded of the actor’s sad demise.
When an extraordinarily talented cast (which also includes returnee Ricky Gervais and series rookie Rebel Wilson) is stranded without anything funny to do, you have to wonder why anyone even bothered. A couple of surprise cameos provide a few chuckles, but Secret of the Tomb is a near total washout. Director Shawn Levy even screws up whatever poignancy exists in Larry’s final farewell to his museum friends with a tacked-on, unnecessarily cheery coda that keeps the door open for another sequel. We can only how that the tomb of Night of the Museum remains forever locked.
Images: 20th Century Fox