For anybody who has not been in an actual museum, "Night at the Museum" may not be the best substitute, but it's still a pretty good movie.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a divorced dad whose creativity and inventiveness don't really help him much in the real world. He finally lands a job as a night watchman at the American Museum of Natural History.
The previous watchmen (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs) warn him that the job is not as easy as he might think. He soon finds out what they mean once all the exhibits come to life at night.
Having expected a quiet, boring job, Larry instead has to deal with, among other things, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that likes to play fetch with its own ribs, faceless Civil War mannequins who battle each other ruthlessly, and a mischievous capuchin monkey named Dexter who constantly steals Larry's keys.
After reading up on some history, Larry learns how to prevent total chaos in the museum, but even that cannot prepare him for what happens next.
Stiller is the ideal actor to play Larry; he takes more pratfalls and physical punishment here than in "There's Something About Mary" and "Dodgeball" combined. Robin Williams is also great as Teddy Roosevelt, who is the unofficial leader of the museum exhibits. Van Dyke, Rooney, and Cobbs are perfect as Cecil, Gus
and Reginald, who conveniently forget
to tell Larry exactly what the job entails.
British comedian Ricky Gervais, from "The Office," is somewhat overlooked, but has several moments as Dr. McPhee, the pretentious head of the museum. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are particularly funny as bickering miniature
figurines, playing a cowpoke named Jedadiah and a Roman general named Octavius,
Director Shawn Levy has a field day with this material. As the director of "Cheaper by the Dozen" and the recent remake of "The Pink Panther," he is no stranger to craziness. "Night at the Museum" is just as heavy on the slapstick.
While highly amusing, it seems to defeat the overall point of the film, which is to get kids interested in history. Levy includes a number of bits that are educational as well as entertaining, but these are bombarded with goofy scenes such as Larry having a shouting match with Attila the Hun, or a group of Neanderthals eating the contents of a fire extinguisher.
"Night at the Museum" does not really follow through with what seems to be its aim, but it makes an impressive effort. No doubt it will at least make a handful of kids crack open a book, so at least it is not just an exercise in random silliness.