Fantasy and comedy are not a very common combination on the big screen, but whenever they do come to life, they’re very unique in at least the premise. Sure, we do get good entries like Jumanji, but most of them are hindered by standards of commercial cash grabs.
The problem that often arises though, is the effort of the writing itself, as most fantasy-comedies or even comedies themselves end up suffering due to a bad script, of which the jokes either don’t complement the interesting fantasy premise or make it quite worse. In Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum, it’s the latter case. It carries a fun premise, and the novel it adapts is a very good book too, but the problem is with Night at the Museum’s cinematic execution. It’s not a nicely directed and written film, but it isn’t anything extremely bad either.
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The Movie Review
Ben Stiller stars as Larry, who’s quite unstable at work, and his ex-wife is always critical of him for that very reason, as she believes he’s a bad influence on their ten-year-old son Nick. Larry on the other end wants to prove himself a good father, and fears that his son would start loving his stepfather more than him. Larry has regular employment problems and is left without any choice quite often.
This one time, an aged security guard of the American Museum of Natural History retires from his job and chooses to hire Larry as his replacement, despite all the notoriety Larry has garnered for his workplace personality.
Characters with a troubled personal and professional life are quite a trope in comedy films, but they still offer the potential for good writing, for example, Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Scott Lang/Ant-Man. But here, the writing barely adds to Larry’s predicament, and it’s only the context that makes you root for him rather than the execution of it.
And then begins the adventure of the museum. The museum, due to losing a lot of money, releases three guards, with only Larry left to look after the museum. Larry is given a booklet by the guard Cecil, who warns him to not let anything out. As soon as midnight comes by, everything in the museum is brought to life.
Some of the funniest examples would be a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that plays like a playful dog, and ancient miniature civilizations that are based on the Old West, Ancient Rome, as well as Ancient Maya. There exist some of the most hilarious personalities and creatures in the museum, but the dialogue never makes the best out of it all, and the direction falls a little behind mediocrity.
Besides that, we have some potentially dangerous members of the museum, that wreak the havoc that the third act of the film would solve. As an arc of redemption, Larry brings his son Nick to the museum for a good night’s experience, and the rest goes just as you would expect from such a film.
It’s extremely easy to notice how almost every comedic or imaginative aspect of the film stems from the source material itself rather than the film’s own writing or direction. So, if we were to talk about how this film executes, the conclusion would be that it’s pretty middling. It doesn’t ruin the contents of the novel, just that it rarely hits the right notes.
Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant’s writing is barely clever with the comedy, whereas Shawn Levy relies on age-old comedy direction techniques. Alan Silvestri’s original score is also far from his best work, but it’s among the few actual pros of the movie. Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography has nothing wrong besides the occasional repetitiveness, but it doesn’t stand out either.
The Bottom Line
Night at the Museum is a film that fails to execute a good novel with quality. It’s nothing to recommend others against, but considering the mediocrity that persists all over it, it’s better to read the novel instead.