What is it with Ben Stiller comedies? Quality of the movie goes down, the box office receipts go up. That being the case, you only have to look at this movie's gross to get an idea of what you're in for.
Call him a sad sack, call him a loser, because Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) can't seem to catch a break. He's spent the better part of his life trying to invent the next big thing, but so far none of his products have caught on (he thought The Snapper, a device that would allow you to turn appliances off and on with the snap of a finger, would put him in the big leagues, but his thunder was stolen by those guys behind The Clapper). When it appears he is in danger of being evicted from his apartment, Larry accepts a job as a night watchman at New York's Museum of Natural History. Unbeknownst to him, a cursed tablet belonging to the mummified pharaoh on display in the Egyptian wing brings the museum's displays to life at night. Before he knows it, Larry is tangling with a thieving monkey, Attila the Hun, pyromaniac cavemen, warring cowboys and Romans, and the playful skeleton of a T-Rex.
I don't understand how this movie became such a huge hit. It's ordinary from top to bottom, with nothing to distinguish it from the majority of what passes for family entertainment these days. The characters are thinly drawn, the plotting is lazy, and the outcome is about as surprising as that of your average Harlem Globetrotters game. Then again, maybe that does explain why it became a smash.
The children's book which inspired this movie, Milan Trenc's The Night at the Museum, is the short tale of a museum night watchman who must round up some errant dinosaur skeletons during his first night on the job. In adapting the story for the silver screen, writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (how the masterminds behind Reno 911! can also be responsible for such nonsense as this movie, The Pacifier, and Herbie: Fully Loaded is beyond me) expand the story to involve all of the museum's displays, throw in an underdeveloped (to say nothing of unnecessary) love interest (played by the lovely Carla Gugino, who doesn't have nearly enough screen time), add in a monkey with a habit of urinating on people, and work in some Home Alone-style shenanigans. I suppose none of this would matter if the movie were actually entertaining, but it isn't. This is yet another family movie that confuses frenetic with funny. The first eighty minutes of this movie fly by, with no regard for logic or coherence. To make matters worse, these first eighty minutes are repetitive. Stiller has trouble with the monkey, Stiller runs afoul of the Huns, a bunch of stuff gets broken. Lather, rinse, repeat. And then they trot out the slow, interminable finale, which somehow manages to combine Cocoon with The Sunshine Boys, and cap it all off with a closing moment so syrupy sweet it'll give you a cavity.
I suppose I shouldn't place all of the blame on Garant and Lennon. After all, this movie was directed by Shawn Levy, the man responsible for Big Fat Liar and the recent remake of The Pink Panther, and it's quite clear subtlety and restraint aren't in his repertoire. Nor does he know how to handle the visual effects (which are highly variable in quality). Considering that Levy spent the better part of a decade trying to get this project off the ground, you'd think he would've put a little more effort into the finished product, but you'd be wrong.
So, is there anything good about the movie? Well, aside from the aforementioned Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs make appearances as the aging night watchmen Stiller is hired to replace, and they do manage to inject some life into the film (especially Rooney, who seems to be doing Dana Carvey doing Mickey Rooney). Ricky Gervais generates a few laughs as the museum's curator, a man who is never able to finish a thought (it's quite obvious Gervais adlibbed most of his lines). And Paul Rudd is amusing as he attempts to keep his gut from knocking off the numerous cell phones he keeps clipped to his belt. Other than that, though, the movie's a complete bust.
The 1.85:1 transfer (encoded with MPEG2 @ 19 MBPS on a single layer disc) is more than a little uneven. Interiors, particularly those in the museum, look very good, with dark, rich earth tones dominating the color palette. Exteriors, on the other hand, appear overcooked, as if the contrast has been upped, which saps away detail. Some very egregious edge enhancement also rears its head on numerous occasions. By the way, the packaging indicates that the aspect ratio is 2.35:1, but this is a mistake (a far too common one when it comes to Fox releases).
As can be expected, Fox has included a DTS 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track. The sound design is generally front-heavy, but the entire soundstage is utilized during the more manic moments; the low end gets a good workout, particularly whenever the T-Rex skeleton is roaming around. Dialogue is always clear and natural sounding, and Alan Silvestri's score sounds very good. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Fox is releasing a packed 2-disc standard-def edition of Night at the Museum, but as is usually the case, they've shortchanged Blu-ray customers and include only a paltry selection of extras here.
The commentary by director Shawn Levy is far more entertaining and enjoyable than the movie itself. Levy is chatty and engaging, detailing nearly every aspect of the movie's production.
The commentary from writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon is pretty much a waste of disc space. The two attempt to be funny, but come off as annoyingly glib, and their comments regarding their role in the project are few and far between.
Fox has also included a Trivia Track. Unlike previous trivia tracks, this one actually includes info on the film itself, as well as the standard historical and tangential facts. Unfortunately, and this is in keeping with previous tracks, the pop-ups can be a bit hard to read at times.
Lastly, you get the movie's theatrical trailer.
Maybe I'm out of touch, but I'd have to say Night at the Museum was, to put it mildly, one of 2006's most underwhelming features. If Ben Stiller history repeats itself, the inevitable sequel will be far worse and will gross even more money, and I will do everything I can to avoid it.