"Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," otherwise known as "Night at the Museum 3," rates as more determinedly heartfelt than the first and not as witty as the second (and best). Also, no Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs this time around.
"Night at the Museum 3" closes out director Shawn Levy's effects-driven, family-friendly trilogy with three separate farewells. The most bittersweet parting involves the late Robin Williams. It's both touching and difficult to see Williams, looking game but wan, portray Teddy Roosevelt one last time, as Teddy and his fellow Museum of Natural History dwellers (from Attila the Hun to the T-Rex nicknamed Rexy) travel to London's British Museum in order to give the movie somewhere to go, something to do, new institutions to disrupt.
Mickey Rooney constitutes another farewell (he died in April, Williams committed suicide in August). He turns up, briefly, as one of the devious night watchmen from the first picture, now in a retirement home with his cohorts played by Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs. The third farewell is to the series itself, anchored by Ben Stiller as night guard Larry, here upgraded to museum evening events planner, animatronic division. Larry and company must discover why the magical Egyptian knick-knack known as the Tablet of Ahkmenrah is on the fritz, threatening the nocturnal lives of Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and his pals. Off they go to England; only Ahkmenrah's parents (played by Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) can save the day.
Levy's film sets itself a low bar and then hurdles it. It begins badly, with a misjudged action sequence of the gang ruining the reopening of the Hayden Planetarium. It then middles adequately and perks up near the end, paradoxically by calming down and laying off the frantic slapstick. No one has any illusions about these movies. Their primary success ingredients are capuchin monkey urine and Stiller's deadpan reactions to the latest amazement or indignity.
In the new movie there's a pretty good relationship at the core, that of single dad Larry and his restless teenager now played, appealingly, by Skyler Gisondo. Father/son issues abound in the script by David Guion and Michael Handelman. Fruitfully, "Night at the Museum 3" introduces a new Neanderthal named Laaa, played by Stiller. The caveman recognizes in Larry a distant but undeniable blood relative — the dad (or, really, great-great-great-great-great grandson) he never knew he was missing.
Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are back as the wee cowboy Jedediah and Roman warrior Octavius, respectively; Mizuo Peck returns as Sacajawea, as always distressingly light on narrative purpose. In the British Museum section of the story the most conspicuous newcomers are Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens of "Downton Abbey," amusingly narcissistic) and Rebel Wilson as a randy night guard who takes a shine to Laaa. It's a hectic pile-up, this movie, but at least in its final laps it takes the time to say its good-byes more or less properly.
MPAA rating: PG (for mild action, some rude humor and brief language)
Running time: 1:37