Sunday, 2 August 2009

Night at the Museum

Lowdown: A museum's exhibits come alive at night.
Night at the Museum is a film one could not have avoided hearing about. What I have heard did not compliment the film: in a case of rare unanimous reviewing, everyone said this is a bad film. The result was that we didn't bother renting it despite it being a Ben Stiller film, but when opportunity presented itself we watched it off air from Channel 10. Which is an opportunity for me to say that unlike its competition, Channel 10 chose to dedicate its high definition bandwidth to a [boring] sports channel, thus relegating its normal transmissions (and Night at the Museum, too) to standard definition only. And that's a shame.
Another shame worth mentioning has to do with commercial breaks. We recorded Night at the Museum to our PVR and started watching it some 35 minutes behind; by the time the movie was three quarters gone we had caught up with the live broadcast. Just how many commercials does Channel 10 cram us up with?
On to the movie itself. Ben Stiller stars as a useless guy who has failed in everything life had challenged him with. This includes a marriage, a child, and a job. At rock bottom desperation (by this film's standards), he takes the last opportunity offered to him at a job agency and goes for a night guard job at New York's Natural History Museum. To his surprise, and ours if it wasn't for the movie being talked about as much as it had, the museum's exhibits come to life at night; can Stiller master roaming dinosaurs and plenty of other exhibits that seem less to do with natural history and more to do with human, especially American, history? And can he perform his guarding duties when some cunning evil plot to take over museum property rolls on?
Well, it wouldn't ruin anyone's enjoyment out of the film if I was to say the answer is "you betcha". It wouldn't do so because Night at the Museum is a very contrived film that fails to make sense in any respect other than it being made to satisfy entertainment hungry kids. Or, to be more specific, dumb entertainment hungry kids. For example: can we be truly expected to believe one night guard is all this huge real life museum utilizes?
Yet all is not lost, because Night at the Museum is saved (to one extent or another) by a multitude of good comedic talent doing a whole bunch of minor roles as museum exhibits: Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Koogan, and many more. Do they compensate for the cheesy love affair and the overall contrived nature of the film? That point is rather contentious.
At the end of it all, Night at the Museum feels like one big ad for New York's Museum of Natural History. Is that bad? No, when you consider that a visit to such a museum by the target audience (kids) would do them lots of good. I know, because I have been there as a child and was awe struck.
The real problem with Night at the Museum, then, is not what it turned out to be but rather what it could have been had it been well made.
Worst scene: Ricky Gervais, as the museum's manager with a thing against Stiller, is just awful. I don't know if it's him or the part they gave him (which he obviously took for the money), but he made me want to puke.
Overall: Entertaining enough to pass the time with, but could and should have been way better. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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