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Friday, December 19, 2014

Night at the Museum 3 Review: Hilarious Farewell to the Franchise

Night at The Museum: Secret of the Tomb sends off Robin Williams in style.

Review by Matt Cummings

It's not often that you see a trilogy end as well as it began - especially when the second was so awful - but in the case of Shawn Levy's Night at The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, it's not hard to like much of this mad-cap comedy.

Larry (Ben Stiller) has moved up the museum ladder, ready to show off his cast of 'animatronics' to the world. But as we know, these characters are the museum's displays come to life, courtesy of a magical gilded Tablet of Akmenrah, the ancient Egyptian relic responsible for the museum’s transformation. Unfortunately during a fancy gala, the exhibits begin to malfunction, ending the career of Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) and sending Larry to London to seach for a cure to the disintegrating relic. Along the way, he'll run into his British counterpart Tilly (Rebel Wilson), meet an Egyptian Pharaoh (Sir Ben Kingsley), and battle to save his friends before the Tablet is destroyed.

For 90 or so minutes, we're treated to slapstick mayhem on a scale that NATM has gotten very good at producing, but it's not all fun and games. Larry's son Nick (Skyler Gisondo, replacing Jake Cherry) wants to chart his own path that might not include college, and our heroes are placed in imminent danger that feels very real. That might be a bit frightening for some kids, along with the thundering hooves of another dinosaur come to life; but in the end it's all good in fun. Parents will note the second appearance of Kingsley, who yet again plays a dude in the middle of Egypt in as many weeks (he's also playing in Exodus: Gods and Kings). But he's witty and even a little fun near the end, which is really what this franchise all about. We're also treated to a few fun cameos that help break up the monotony of the rather linear script by David Guion, Michael Handelman, and five others. Usually, that many hands in the cookie jar result in a misfire, but somehow it works here.

Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson reprise their roles as the miniature Lilliputians, turning in some of the funniest scenes of the film. Dan Stevens, who turns in a serviceable role as Sir Lancelot, becomes the film's antagonist-turned-redeemer, adding a little bit of drama before Stiller returns to quietly say goodbye to his museum friends. He also gets a chance to extra cash here by playing the newest addition to the museum in Stiller in Laaa, a Neanderthal who looks suspiciously like the security guard.

Levy maintains a tight focus on his characters, choosing wider shots only to demonstrate the beauty of London or to introduce a cat fight that shouldn't be missed. But NATM3's heart is really Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, adding an elegant touch in his final performance. Levy also shows off his love for Indiana Jones by introducing us to the tablet's origins during a 1930's archaeological dig in which none other than Matt Frewer shows up to warn about moving the artifacts. Wilson could carry this mantle in a British follow-up, but her PG collar doesn't allow her too much breathing room, something that Stiller didn't need to make an impression. Gervais, a figure in so many comedies this year, isn't around enough but his scenes are nonetheless enjoyable.

A series like this reminds us that museums can seem like stodgy places where talking out loud is discouraged, but wouldn't it be fun to see Larry's world come alive in our institutions? That's the joy behind NATM3 and the series in general, a nerdy and (mostly family-friendly affair that shows us how our minds are more powerful than any iPhone gadgetry.

Some critics have refused to review this franchise on the grounds that it's silliness and lowbrow humor isn't worth their time. Why take such a stand at the expense of a good laugh? NATM3 doesn't take any bold steps here or reinvent itself in any way, but that doesn't mean the results are any less appealing. A Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is mad-cap family fun that will entertain the little ones while keeping mom and dad searching for the cameos and adult jokes that populate the entire film. It's a fitting end on many levels, and you'd hard pressed to emerge from it without a smile on your face.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language and has a runtime of 97 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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