Night at the Museum ★★★

A vaguely fun-sounding concept is wrenched into relentless mediocrity in this hit family film that has already spawned two sequels. Ben Stiller is a likable enough straight man as new museum guard Larry Daley who discovers that the exhibits come to life at night but he has to fight a constant battle against a plethora of comedy cameos and a tired script that can’t conjure up any fresh jokes. It’s probable that most of the audience came to see this for the exhibits coming to life and so it is frustrating that director Shawn Levy spends so much time outside the museum setting up a by-the-numbers back story complete with a clichéd cute child (Jake Cherry) that Larry must reconnect with. And then once we eventually get inside the museum the first question everyone is likely to be wondering is what sort of natural history museum has cavemen, Huns and an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh alongside the traditional dinosaur and wildlife exhibits. Maybe American museums are different to British ones but it feels suspiciously like the writers just threw in everything they thought might be fun with no thought to internal logic. Dick Van Dyke is surprisingly good fun as a retiring guard with a hidden agenda, lacing every line with a twinkle-eyed charm that’s underlined with menace and he’s ably supported by Bill Cobbs and an ancient Mickey Rooney. However Ricky Gervais as the humourless museum director is ironically not funny at all, while Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt actually has little to do other than gallop around on a horse and dispense most of the inevitably tedious life lessons. Quibbling aside though it must be admitted that the initial scenes of the waxworks coming to life are fairly spectacular (aside from the annoying monkey) and a climactic carriage chase through a snowy Central Park is quite exciting. It rapidly becomes clear however that aside from these moments Levy has little imagination and less wit when it comes to keeping the story going and so the humour and the wonder dissipates quickly and the film is reduced to the level of a bog-standard moralistic adventure story. Given the magical possibilities of the concept, this is a shame.