Saturday, December 23, 2006

Night at the Museum

It's been a good while since i've gotten to write a solid rave, so be forewarned: I just loved this movie.

All the signs were there for a great movie outing. I managed to get out of work by 3:30 which, for me, almost always means a 4:00 movie. And, it being a holiday week, there was a packed house of kids who were at least as excited as this often-immature adult.

And we certainly weren't disappointed. After thankfully little exposition about how Ben Stiller's character can't hold a job and constantly lets down his son, we quickly get to the big show at NYC's Museum of Natural History, where he takes a job as the night watchman.

His guides in this endeavor are three sometimes surly old gents being forced into retirement, played with obvious relish by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs. It would be painful to watch Rooney, in particular, playing such a cartoonishly angry old man if they weren't all clearly having so much fun doing it.

And what they leave Stiller is based on a premise I've always secretly believed: That at night, all the creatures in museums come to life. Any kid who has seen that giant elephant in the lobby of the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum and didn't dream of it coming to life needs a serious shot of imagination.

NYC's version is the perfect setting for the fairly manic show that unfolds, and it plays exactly to Stiller's strengths. He's described his chief comedic talent as being "the reactor," and while that's definitely more than a bit of false modesty, it's just the right pose for this movie, and he nails it.

If you've seen the trailer for this one, it promises a wild ride and mostly delivers. The T-Rex comes to life first, and within minutes you've got pure chaos, tempered with more than a few choice jokes.

Whereas a lot of trailers give away all the best jokes, this flick, which was written by "Reno 911" creators Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, saves plenty of surprises for the movie itself. Sure, it's a cathartic joy to watch Stiller smacking a monkey (rather than, if this were a Farrelly brothers flick, I suppose choking the chicken), but also watch out for a very funny moment with Attila and his huns, plus a lot more.

And in this melee, you get some seriously good comics in top form. Robin Williams, who I can either take or leave, channels the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt perfectly as he rides through the museum spouting empty platitudes about greatness. Apparently all he needs is a good target for all that energy, and he definitely hits it here. You'll also get naturally funny guys Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as, respectively, a cowboy and a Roman soldier who are rivals forced, of course, to unite to save their fellow museum creatures. And you also get Carla Gugino who, though she has very little to do, is always a welcome sight in my book.

One quibble, if I may. Ricky Gervais' museum director is, naturally, supposed to be stuffy bad guy, but he plays it as a lightweight version of David Brent from "The Office," and it just doesn't work. A man as funny as he is should never be a one-trick pony.

But, like I said, thats just a quibble with this flick that has the audacious goal of making history cool again. It doesn't quite get there, but it does make it loads of fun, which was good enough for me.

It's gonna be a busy movie weekend here (my favorite kind of Christmas!) We're going to see "Rocky Balboa" later today, and then "Dreamgirls" Monday, so please feel free to stop back for reviews (which I'm fairly certain will be positive), and have a very merry Christmas!


Anonymous said...

Wow, it was really a good movie? It got very mixed reviews. I may have to wait til it comes out on video though!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked it! I went expecting the worst, mostly because the studio held it to the last minute, not holding the screening for critics until the night before it opened. And I have been underwhelmed with director Shawn Levy's past films, especially his butchering of one of my favorite books, "Cheaper by the Dozen." But I was pleasantly surprised! I thought it was smart, funny, and heartwarming and the story held its own against the special effects. I loved seeing old-timers Dick van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobb (did you stay through the credits to see them dance?). Can't wait to see what you think of Rocky (which I did not like) and Dreamgirls (which I did).

Reel Fanatic said...

I think I'm just an old softie, Nell, because for the most part I liked Rocky quite a bit .. i'm gonna let it settle it for a while and wait to write a review until tomorrow ... I hadn't bothered with any of Mr. Levy's previous flicks, so I didn't bring any of that baggage in with me .. it was also my first Jumanji movie, though i can't imagine the other two are anywhere near as good as this

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to this one... and Dreamgirls. Merry Xmas!

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I would like to see this movie, if for other reason, like you, I always suspected that exhibits in museums come to life after the place closes!

Anonymous said...

We just came back from watching this movie, and I believe my husband and I were the oldest patrons in the theatre. I too was concerned about the movie based upon lukewarm reviews (specifically EW's), but was pleasantly surprised. The monkey slapping scene was memorable, and Robin Williams was quite good in his Teddy role. No boring bits either, the story kept rolling along. All-in-all quite an entertaining film. Glad you liked it too!

Matt said...

I think the movie had a good concept, but ultimately failed in it's execution.

Suprised you liked it, could be the festive period blinding your judgment perhaps? lol

Looking forward to seeing your Rocky review. We don't get it here in the UK for another few weeks.

Reel Fanatic said...

That is indeed possible, Matt, but I stand by how much fun I had while watching ... I normally have to work until about 6:30 on a Friday, so perhaps the Christmas present of getting out so early clouded my judgment a little!

Anonymous said...

i was chilling out in the natural history museum about a month ago when my college roommate came to visit. when i first saw the trailer for this movie, i thought it was ridiculous. but after hanging out there for awhile, i thought to myself, "gee, this place must be freaky at night!"

sad to hear that ricky's amazing comedic talent wasn't put to its best use.

Reel Fanatic said...

I had the feeling watching it, Millie, that they just wrote it with him in mind, so he had no choice but to deliver his Office persona .. it really didn't take too much away from the movie, though