Near the end of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Robin Williams talks to Ben Stiller about accepting when it’s time to bid farewell to a loved one. The film is filled with flaccid attempts to pull at our heartstrings, but within the context of Williams’ untimely passing this moment is painfully bittersweet. Unfortunately, the rest of the film’s emotional and comedic moments fall flat as we watch Stiller lazily trudge through another series of museum misadventures.
This go round Larry (Stiller) is sent to the British Museum in London to repair the Egyptian tablet that makes all the exhibits come to life at night. The films’ prologue provides some backstory about the discovery of the tablet during an archeological excavation and later on we learn about its creation through a fun Ben Kingsley narrated flashback. These recollections about the tablet are some of the most entertaining moments in the film, although they muddle up the film’s mythology a bit.
See, when the tablet is first discovered in Egypt, a spooked local warns the excavation team that the artifact will bring about “the end of everything.” But the tablet’s magic is what brings all these wax figures and fossils to life, right? The “prophecy” surrounding the tablet is all a bit dodgy.
At least there’s a relentless string of wacky set pieces to distract us from the shoddy storyline. Stiller is joined by the core gang from the previous installments (Williams, Owen Wilson, Rami Malek, Steve Coogan, and that monkey) as well as some new faces like The Guest’s Dan Steven as Sir Lancelot and Rebel Wilson doing what she does in every movie, albeit a family friendly version.
In the previous chapter, Battle of the Smithsonian, the script was enlivened by Amy Adams’ screwball turn as Amelia Earhart. In Secret of the Tomb, everyone seems bored – especially Stiller. There are some sparks of energy here and there, usually provided by the always reliable Ricky Gervais as Larry’s arrogant boss. But other than him it’s hard to imagine a more wearied looking ensemble this year than these folks.
The emotional subplot involves Larry’s divorce woes and his son Nick’s (Skyler Gisondo) decision to become a DJ out of high school rather than go to college. Yes, there is a scene where he drops the bass. This whole father-son squabble might be marginally interesting if there was any foundation set up for it in the previous films. There isn’t, so their scenes together feel forced rather than poignant. It feels like director Shawn Levy and screenwriter David Guion and Michael Handelman were aiming for a Pixar vibe – one that appeals to both kids and adults. The result is a tonal fumble.
But hell, who am I kidding? Kids are going to love it. There’s enough slapstick and monkey piss jokes to tide over the young ones in between the drab father-son moments. The franchise will most likely live on. But when the biggest laughs in a movie come when a monkey urinates on a miniature Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, it may be time to consider throwing in the towel.