Following the failure of his latest invention and an ultimatum from his ex-wife (Kim Raver), who threatens to restrict access to their 10-year-old, Nick (Jake Cherry), a smart kid who's beginning to suspect his dad is a loser, dreamer Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) takes the only job the employment agent (Stiller's real-life mom, Anne Meara) has to offer: night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. For budgetary reasons, Larry is replacing three old-timers (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs) who've spent decades keeping an eye on the museum's amazing collection of mounted animal specimens, fossils and historical artifacts. Cecil (Van Dyke) hands Larry a set of keys, a flashlight and the night watchman's handbook, but instead of following the guide's strange instructions, Larry fiddles with the PA system and falls asleep at the front desk. He awakes to find the joint crawling with now-animated exhibits, from the Africa Room's lions and tigers, to such life-sized wax historical figures as Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and the gigantic T. Rex skeleton that greets visitors at the entrance. Even tiny figures from the miniature wild west and ancient Rome dioramas (an uncredited Owen Wilson appears as a rootin', tootin' gunslinger; Steve Coogan is the Roman general Octavius) are scrambling about. After a harrowing night eluding Genghis Kahn and a cheeky capuchin monkey, Larry confronts Cecil, who finally explains the mystery: Since the arrival of the solid gold Egyptian Tablet of Ahkmenrah in the 1950s, all the exhibits have come to life after closing time. The night watchman's job — should Larry choose to accept it, which he must if he hopes to win back Nick's respect — is to maintain order and make sure everything's back in place before daybreak.
No reason for the museum's exciting nightlife is given beyond ancient Egyptian magic, but for all the special effects wizardry, magic is exactly what the movie lacks. Ploddingly directed by Shawn Levy (the man behind 2006's terrible PINK PANTHER remake), it's so devoid of enchantment that one can't help but coldly notice the implausibilities: Is the Museum of Natural History really not equipped with security cameras or a cleaning crew who would notice the nightly mayhem? Is Central Park really so empty at night that no one would notice a woolly mammoth strolling across Strawberry Fields? Brilliant British comedian Rick Gervais (creator and star of the UK Office) and the very talented Carla Gugino, who appears as Larry's love interest, are utterly wasted; only Rooney's cameo is enough to elicit a smile. leave a comment --Ken Fox
This loud, overlong and thoroughly exhausting fantasy, based on Milan Trenc's slim children's book, purports to introduce youngsters to the wonders of New York City's American Museum of Natural History, but in fact aims squarely at hyperactive kids who can't sit still or stand a moment's silence.