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Night at the Museum Secret of the Tomb

D: Shawn Levy / 98m

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson, Skyler Gisondo, Rami Malek, Patrick Gallagher, Mizuo Peck, Ben Kingsley, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs

Egypt, 1938. A team of archaeologists discover the tomb of Akhmenrah (Malek). They also find a golden tablet, but are warned that “the end will come” if the tablet is removed.

New York, present day. The Museum of Natural History is having an evening gala. Night security guard Larry Daley (Stiller) has arranged for some of the exhibits, including Teddy Roosevelt (Williams), Attila the Hun (Gallagher), and Sacagawea (Peck), to take part. Aware that the golden tablet that brings them all to life is showing signs of corrosion, Larry is unprepared for how it affects the exhibits during the gala; they run amok and the event is a disaster. Larry learns that the prophecy, that “the end will come”, means an end to the magic that brings the exhibits to life, and that the only way to stop it is to take the tablet to the British Museum in London. The museum holds the bodies of Akhmenrah’s parents, and it’s his father, Merenkahre (Kingsley), who can stop the tablet from losing its magic.

Larry arranges for the tablet and Akhmenrah to be shipped to the British Museum and takes his son, Nick (Gisondo), along with him. When they reach the museum they find that Teddy, Attila and Sacagawea have stowed away on the journey, along with Dexter the monkey, Jedediah (Wilson), Octavius (Coogan), and Laa (Stiller), a neanderthal who looks like Larry. As the museum’s exhibits start to come to life, they head for the Egyptian exhibition, but find themselves attacked by the skeleton of a triceratops. Luckily, they’re saved by Sir Lancelot (Stevens) who agrees to help them. An encounter with a nine-headed Xiangliu statue provides some unwanted danger, but eventually they reach Akhmenrah’s parents, where Merenkahre reveals that the tablet needs to be exposed to moonlight to restore its powers. However, believing it to be the Holy Grail, Lancelot steals the tablet and flees the museum in search of Camelot. Larry et al chase after him, but the tablet is close to losing its power altogether.

Night at the Museum Secret of the Tomb - scene

And so, the law of diminishing returns rears its predictable head and helps bury yet another fantasy franchise. While no one would say that the Night at the Museum movies are anything other than pleasantly diverting, what this second sequel lacks is the manic energy of the first two, and a script that makes the barest attempt at providing a credible storyline. Hardly any of it makes sense, from the idea that “the end will come” if the tablet is removed from the Akhmenrah family tomb in the first place, to the idea that Larry would take his son along with him to London (they’re having “issues”), to the conceit that the British Museum has only the one guard (who is stationed in a gatehouse and not inside the actual building), to the notion that Lancelot would mistake the tablet for the Holy Grail, to the judgment that everyone can get back to New York before the sun rises – from London… in the middle of the night… It’s like someone chucked a whole sticky mess of ideas at a wall and these were the ones that didn’t slip to the floor.

With the script having gone AWOL from the beginning, it’s left to director Shawn Levy to make the most of a bad set up, but for the most part he’s AWOL as well. The opening sequence in Egypt has a sub-Raiders of the Lost Ark feel that makes it the most interesting part of the movie, but it’s probably because it doesn’t take place inside a museum. Still, it has an intensity that’s missing from the rest of the movie, and Levy at least ensures a minimal sense of wonder at the tomb’s discovery. From then on it’s business as usual, with Gervais’ museum head acting all prissy, Coogan highlighting Octavius’s homosexual leanings, Dexter getting to urinate on someone (this time Jedediah and Octavius), Williams dispensing kind words and wisdom as if Roosevelt was the sagest exhibit of them all, the Easter Island head saying “dum-dum” as if that was still funny by itself, and a set of dinosaur bones that just want to play if given the right encouragement. It’s lazy with a capital L-A-Z-Y.

The same is true of the performances. It would be foolish to expect the cast of a second sequel to bring their ‘A’ game to things, but watching some of them going through the motions is not only dispiriting, but embarrassing as well. Stiller all but sleepwalks through his role as Larry, bringing not one new quirk or character trait to the table, and mugging for all he’s worth as Laa, the comedy neanderthal. In support it’s business as usual for all concerned, with Williams smiling from beneath his moustache at every opportunity, Gallagher playing Attila as a great big softie, Peck kept on the sidelines as Sacagawea, Wilson and Coogan reprising their “good buddy” relationship (and which sorely needs some antagonism added back into it), and Malek remaining as bland as ever. Even Crystal the Monkey is subdued this time around, as if even she can’t be bothered. Only Stevens rises above the paucity of the material, his preening, carefree Lancelot proving an unexpected treat. (As for Rebel Wilson’s in-all-ways frustrated security guard, well, the less said the better.)

A bittersweet farewell to Teddy Roosevelt aside – and would that even be true if it weren’t for the sad death of Robin Williams last year? – Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb scampers along like a young child wanting to be noticed but not really knowing how to go about it. Lacking in anything resembling a “wow” factor, even the special effects don’t have the same impact as before. But thanks to some splendid cinematography by Guillermo Navarro, the movie does look good, which is something at least.

Rating: 3/10 – poorly executed, and as devoid of life as the exhibits it animates, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is yet another unnecessary sequel that tries too hard to make up for its deficiencies; when the level of humour is to have an Egyptian pharaoh ask someone to “kiss my staff” then it’s time to let the golden tablet corrode for good.