Someone had a terrific idea to make a movie from the Milan Trenc children's book "The Night at the Museum," in which the displays at a natural history museum come to life at night. But at 32 pages, it would require some imaginative fleshing out.
Unfortunately, the ideas seem to have dried up after someone decided to drop an article and retitle it "Night at the Museum." The resulting film, a tedious family comedy starring Ben Stiller as a luckless dreamer named Larry Daley, tacks on an uninspired back story and a ton of special effects but never engages.
The inventor of an ill-fated device called the Snapper -- lights go on and off at the snap of your fingers -- Larry is on the verge of being evicted from his apartment when he takes a job as a night watchman at the museum. He sees it as a last chance to prove himself to his ex-wife (Kim Raver) and young son (Jake Cherry), who has decided he wants to be a bond trader like his mother's fiance (Paul Rudd).
On Larry's first night, he's left alone by the three aging guards he's replacing -- played by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs -- and soon finds himself chased down the hallways by the very lively skeleton of a T-Rex. Because the character of Larry is never really developed, the stakes are never high enough for us to be invested in the outcome. The bulk of the movie is a series of sight gags and set pieces that wreak much havoc but little else.
The presence of funny men Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wilson as a cowboy named Jedediah, Steve Coogan as Roman Emperor Octavius and Ricky Gervais as the pretentious museum director adds humor, but it's not enough to keep the film from dragging, even during its frantic last half-hour.
Directed by Shawn Levy with an emphasis on mayhem over anything resembling an interesting story, the movie was adapted by screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. Cavemen and dinosaurs, cowboys and Roman soldiers, lions and zebras, all running amok, sounds like more fun than it is.
"Night at the Museum," rated PG for mild action, language and brief rude humor. Running time: 1 hours, 48 minutes. In general release.