Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Night at the Museum

Could it be that Ben Stiller’s new film, Night at the Museum, is a parable for George Walker Bush’s Presidency? A slight hint for/from the President showing the way forward out of the Iraq ‘crisis’? A Rove-ian way of getting the baby-cons ‘on-message’?

Let’s look at the evidence. A resolute under-achieve, Larry Daley (Stiller) struggles to find a job that will win him respect. He’s tricked into a position of responsibility by some crafty old-timers with a hidden agenda. Once in office, as the night-watchman of New York’s natural history museum, things quickly slip out of his control – as hoped for by his ‘advisors’ who wish to profit from the ensuing chaos, and before you know it, thanks to a magical spell which brings to life stuffed exhibits from the past, he’s begging Theodore Roosevelt for help – the same Teddy Roosevelt who as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897 declared “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one”.

Indeed Robin Williams’ unbearably sentimental (as ever) Roosevelt provides the catalyst to bring forth the hero in Stiller’s character. “Some men are born great, some men have greatness thrust on them” he emotes when Stiller’s character Larry Daley is about to walk out of the job. The message is clear – one man, with the right motives, can always become a hero; can always make things work out all right; can always become great in his own right. If things aren’t working out the way you want them to, be it in the magic museum or Iraq, it’s just ’cause you don’t want it bad enough…

All of this is not entirely fair on Night at the Museum, which, aside from the saccharine moral tale which seems obligatory for Hollywood’s ‘family’ films, is not all that bad. A stupid story is bolstered by a wonderful cast – let’s overlook Williams’ cuddly Roosevelt momentarily – and there are enough comic moments that work to keep both adults and children alike happy, which one presumes is the main goal of the film.

In particular Dick Van Dyck, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs play a wonderfully malevolent trio of ex-nightwatchmen ready to use Stiller to get their hands on a magic Egyptian amulet. Guiltily I wondered whether Van Dyck and Rooney were actually on-screen acting or were computer-generated, given their advanced years ( I imagined, wrongly, that Rooney was pushing up daisies). The zest, though, with which they play their roles does them credit – it’s hard not to smile when Rooney rebounds to Stiller “You cracking wise? I ought to punch your nose hopscotch”.

Also working well within the bounds of the formula are Owen Wilson, as a pioneering cowboy (“What does it look like I’m doing? It’s manifest destiny! You can’t fight it, and neither can I”), Steve Coogan as a Roman Centurion, and Ricky Gervais, with what is just a couple of lines more than a cameo, as the Museum Director.

Whether the film does justice to Croatian author/artist Milan Trenc’s book The Night at the Museum is open to question – a question this reviewer is in no position to answer, not having read Mr Trenc’s book. Given, though, the strict adherence to various Hollywood formulas and heavy dependence upon special effects, it’s unlikely.

And what of Stiller? Well, Stiller is as Stiller does, which will be a good or a bad thing depending upon your point of view. He plays the role of Larry Daley much the same way as he plays all his roles. He could just as well be Gaylord Fokker, or Ted Stroehmann from Meet the Fokkers or There’s something about Mary. His face and timing work for this reviewer, and managed to save this film – just.

Watch the Night at the Museum trailer

Leave a Reply