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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
U.S. Release Date: December 22, 2006
Distributor: Fox
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Thomas Lennon & Ben Garant
Producer: Chris Columbus, Thomas M. Hammel (executive), Stephen Sommers (executive)
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson
Running Time: 1 hour and 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (mild action, language and brief rude humor)

Family Comedy Mildly Amusing
by Scott Holleran

As long as one is immunized against the dumbed down, revisionist history that contaminates Jumanji lookalike Night at the Museum, and a decent grasp of U.S. history is the only antidote, this Ben Stiller movie is mildly entertaining.

With Stiller as another hapless male semi-moron—a father, of course—and the lovely Carla Gugino as a museum docent and struggling scholar, history comes alive at dusk every night in what looks like the most inviting natural history museum in America.

This place has it all: cowboys and Indians and Romans in elaborate dioramas, real, stuffed animals in simulated environments, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton—and not an interactive video display in sight. Stiller's unemployed, near-useless divorced dad is hired to work there as a night guard.

Dick Van Dyke (who voiced a museum role in Curious George) is joined by veteran actors Bill Cobbs and Mickey Rooney as fellow guards. Any movie in which 86-year-old Rooney garners more laughs than Robin Williams is not completely without merit.

The plot is spread thin—Stiller has to redeem himself to his son, fall for Gugino and tackle the exhibits, which come to life at night—and it's essentially a live action cartoon with humor that's partly based on physical pratfalls. But it contains less toilet humor than one might suspect in a Ben Stiller vehicle and burrowed somewhere beneath the political correctness is an interest in the subject of history.

The interest is admittedly marginal; license taken with barbarian Attila the Hun, who eventually buddies up with America's discoverer Christopher Columbus, is outrageous and parents and teachers alike are advised to take hold of junior's hand and head straight for reliable history books after exiting the theater. Stiller's scene with meaty Attila, in which he soothes the savage with psycho-babble, is one of the funnier moments.

Silly fun doesn't excuse the discrediting of American explorers Lewis and Clark, reduced here to asterisks in the fabricated backstory of their teen-aged Indian translator, Sacagawea—who ridiculously speaks perfect English and guides them across North America here—or the defilement of the American cowboy, represented by Owen Wilson, who is portrayed as a doofus. Robin Williams appears as American President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.

It will come as no surprise that Stiller's night guard finds inventive means of wrestling with the beastly marauders in his nightly routine. He trains T-Rex to behave, while Teddy comes to his aid on horseback, and he keeps those miniatures in line. Sacagawea is depicted as some kind of holy primitive princess while Lewis and Clark squabble and, besides a romantic subplot, a major plot twist pops up, too.

All ends predictably well, with an exciting chase sequence and capable, not extraordinary, computer generated visuals.


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