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December 28, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | December 28, 2006 |

It occurred to me during my viewing of Night at the Museum that the films that are hardest to review are those that clearly aren’t aimed for my personal tastes or demographic. It should be obvious to any of Pajiba’s readers that, given half a chance, neither I nor the other critics who write here would deign to sit through a movie that promises only to be a holiday time-killer, a quasi-comedy-adventure with ludicrous, amusing visuals and tepid, kid-friendly comedy. And that’s exactly what Night at the Museum is: a flimsy pretext to throw a bunch of random shit together to (ideally) distract youngsters and not offend the parents or grandparents who’ve taken them to the movies on Christmas weekend.

So it’s precarious to come out of such a viewing with pretentious derogations when the film in question exists as a means to raw entertainment and not for any inherent purpose. But I can tell you that, as far as kids’ entertainment goes, I’ve seen better. The bland octogenarians-and-under-10 demographic should get what they pay for, but anyone else will probably react to the movie with the same boredom and apathy that I felt. Not even the cabal of supposedly great comedians who appear in Night at the Museum can save this paltry blueprint, which has served the family-comedy genre since the John Hughes/Chris Columbus (who produced here) era.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is the archetypal moron with a chip on his shoulder. Larry has vocational difficulties (can’t hold a job), which wouldn’t be a huge deal except that his ruthlessly judgmental ex-wife and son make it clear that if he doesn’t land a steady paycheck they’ll … continue to nag and judge him until he does. Larry lands a job as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where, as the previews promise, all the crap comes to life and wreaks havoc. I forget exactly why or how — it’s either Satan or some Egyptian curse.

What’s particularly sad is the unintentional museum metaphor that comes to play here, as the supporting cast is stacked with relics of comedy (Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, Robin Williams) and the underused newcomers (Ricky Gervais, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Charlie Murphy). The purpose of the former is clearly to appeal to the older folks’ comedy tastes, but the latter few are more known for their adult or hipster appeal. In any case, neither old nor young have much to work with, as the CG animals and costumed buffoons are intended to create asinine situations for comedy to ensue without the comedians doing any of it themselves. The resulting blandness will be boring to all but the most insipid of holiday theatergoers.

Night at the Museum is a decades-old pretense and a cheap ploy to suck some green out of our Christmas leisure time. If you ask me, families would be better served dusting off their VHS copies of Home Alone and staying inside this year. Then again, if you’re old enough or young enough to ignore the spiteful grumblings of a jaded critic, well, Merry Christmas.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

Bah Humbug

Night at the Museum / Phillip Stephens

Film | December 28, 2006 |

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