“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” Movie Review

     Family films around Christmas time are as obligatory as any traditional holiday festivity.  So is a blatant cash grab by movie studios.  This would be the only way to explain the reasoning behind producing a third “Night at the Museum” film with director Sean Levy and star Ben Stiller each returning to do it again with “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”.  I could simply conclude this review now and write that this threequel is a rehashing of the first two films, the second of which, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009), was also an unwelcome and unneeded chapter.  While the original 2006 film was a fine addition to the holiday season with its spin on the “Toy Story” toys come to life trope, the formula simply doesn’t work a third time as the screenwriters shamefully move the proceedings to the British Museum in London and recycle the plot from the first two films.  Even the recurring theme of having the characters talk about the importance of museums in children’s lives has grown old when it’s hammered home a third time.  All we are left with as an audience is that dull going through the motions feeling.

     In a sort of “Indiana Jones” meets the “Mummy” prologue, the film opens in 1938 Egypt where a group of archaeologists seem to be searching for the next valuable piece of history.  When a boy falls through a hole and finds himself in an ancient tomb, he and his father discover the Tablet of Ahkmenrah, the tablet which brings the exhibits to life each night in the first film.  You would think all would be well as time goes on, considering a sequel has already been told, but it turns out we are getting a quick lesson on the tablet’s origin because the ancient artifact is yet again what drives the story in this third outing.  When we fast forward to present day, Larry (Ben Stiller) has organized a lavish gala at the Natural History Museum and has everyone believing the life like exhibits are merely special effects.  But then something goes wrong. Chaos ensues as the various characters begin to act strange and the carefully choreographed festivities are ruined leaving the attendees to run out of the gala for their very lives.  Larry is dumbfounded and can’t figure out what’s happened.  After all, these museum exhibits have always seemed to behave before right?

     After noticing that the Tablet is now engulfed in some kind of greenish rust, it is suggested by Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and later by that boy from 1938 himself who is actually the Cecil (Dick Van Dyke) character from the first film, that they bring the Tablet to the British Museum in London where Ahkmenrah’s parent’s exhibit is located to get answers on what to do next.  And so with the permission of the soon to be fired museum director, Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais), Larry and his pals that include Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams), Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Sacajawea (Mizou Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), and, of course, Dexter the monkey head across the pond in search of answers.  Not surprisingly, the tablet not only reanimates Larry’s pals, but also brings the exhibits in the British Museum to life as well with their existences defined in the film by how they cope with their sudden introduction to modern life.  None of these new characters are particularly interesting.  Ben Kingsley appears as Ahkmenrah’s father, Merenkahre, with lackluster results and Dan Stevens pops up as Sir Lancelot in what is meant to be a bit of comic relief but also ends up falling flat by the end.

     I don’t really know what to think about Rebel Wilson these days.  Here she turns up as the night guard at the British Museum and like her American counterpart, Melissa McCarthy, seems to rely on the fact she is overweight to generate laughs.  While this may be funny initially, she uses it to carry her entire performance thus reducing herself to a caricature rather than an actual person.  If this is the last time we see Robin Williams on the big screen, it’s truly sad the role was unbecoming of his immense talent as an actor.  His appearance has all of the look and feel of one of those paycheck roles (to be expected the third time around), unlike the many roles that made him famous such as “Good Will Hunting”, “Dead Poets Society”, and “Good Morning Vietnam.”  He will be missed. 

     With the tagline “One final night to save the day”, one could only hope this franchise will be put to bed permanently.  This is not the kind of picture where you determine whether or not the acting, screenwriting, or direction is on par with the awards contenders that also release this time year.  These types of genre films rarely are.  What you hope for is a quality outing by a number of both familiar and talented filmmakers to provide a little escapist entertainment during the holiday season.  Perhaps as a stand alone film, meaning you haven’t viewed the previous two installments, “Secret of the Tomb” may do just that, but as the climactic film in a trilogy it plays more like a television rerun.  GRADE: D