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Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014)

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014)

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Premise: The third film in the series. The stone tablet that animates the displays at the Museum of Natural History is corroding and losing its magical effects. Night watchman Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), must take the tablet to the British Museum in order to restore its power.

What Works: Secret of the Tomb is an attempt to tie off the Night at the Museum franchise and close out the trilogy. As that, the movie generally works and it gives audiences who have enjoyed the series thus far another helping of exactly what they’ve come to expect. All of the most popular characters are back such as Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), and Dexter the Monkey (Crystal the Monkey). The third film is considerably better than the previous entry, Battle of the Smithsonian. That movie was a mess of sloppy and padded storytelling. By comparison, Secret of the Tomb is much more streamlined. It gives its characters a specific mission to accomplish with concrete stakes and the film has a very clear series of plot points. The movie has the requisite humor and action that audiences expect, including one standout sequence in which the characters end up inside of an M.C. Escher painting and a funny cameo with actors Alice Eve and Hugh Jackman.

What Doesn’t: As the (presumably) final entry in the Night at the Museum series, it’s incumbent on the filmmakers to do something interesting with the story and the characters butvirtually everything about Secret of the Tomb feels phoned in. The movie has no imagination and many of the jokes and set pieces are reiterations of moments in the earlier films. The story of Secret of the Tomb is predicated around the magical tablet losing its power. The mainstay of characters travel to the British Museum to find the solution and discover it without too much difficulty. Matters are only complicated when one of the British Museum’s exhibits, Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), comes to life and steals the tablet. The rest of the movie is a chase in which the heroes try to reclaim the artifact. This is basically the same plot as the previous Night at the Museum movies and the filmmakers add nothing to this third version. The familiar characters travel to a new establishment but encounter the same situations. A few new characters are introduced but they are obviously intended as substitutes for exhibits that didn’t carry over to the third film, most obviously the skeletal Triceratops that replaces the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The movie operates on the assumption that audiences will enjoy more of the same but even though a lot of the familiar characters return, no one is doing anything interesting. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan return as Jedediah and Octavius, respectively, but their Wild West versus Roman Empire shtick is tired. Even Dexter the Monkey looks bored in this movie. Most unfortunate is the waste of Robin Williams, who returns as Teddy Roosevelt. Williams contributed a lot to the previous films and to see him used in such an uninspired way is a shame, especially given that this is one of the actor’s last completed performances. As bad as the second Night at the Museum film was, that picture at least gave the impression that the filmmakers were trying to top the original picture. Instead of bringing the Night at the Museum series to a fun and fulfilling finale, Secret of the Tomb comes across as a cynical cash grab. There is evidence in the film to suggest that Secret of the Tomb is not really the end of the Night at the Museum series but rather is intended to pivot the franchise and allow it to be rebooted in a new setting and with new characters. But after watching this film it’s unlikely that anyone will want to continue visiting this attraction.

Bottom Line: Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb is at best a mediocre capstone to what’s been an unexceptional series. The first movie was fun but the sequels never justified their existence and the last entry is an underwhelming finale.

Episode: #523 (January 4, 2015)