“Night at the Museum” is the perfect example of a film that's all style and no substance.
This family-friendly, “Jumanji”-like adventure features some nice comic set pieces with some great visual effects (that are really neat in the IMAX version I saw with my family). The film is so visually appealing, it's a credit to “Museum,” despite the fact the movie has a flimsy plot full of hokey clichés and contrived plot advancements.
Ben Stiller stars as Larry, a divorced, unemployed dad looking to get a job and reconnect with his son, Nick (Jake Cherry). Larry takes a job as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where he discovers that all the exhibits come to life after dark.
The exhibits include Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), a T-Rex that loves to play fetch, and Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher).
The film is at its best when the exhibits come to life. Stiller, in his typical deadpan fashion, plays off the chaos well. Williams is surprisingly restrained, but it works. There is also nice supporting work from Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervias.
But at times, “Museum” feels painstakingly long. The father-son bonding doesn't work and feels forced. Carla Gugino is wasted as a potential love interest, and although I enjoyed seeing Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke, they could have been given better roles.
Give director Shawn Levy credit - he manages to balance the film enough to make the positive narrowly outweigh the negative (something he failed to do in previous films “The Pink Panther” and “Cheaper by the Dozen”).
A family could do better than “Night at the Museum,” but they could also do a lot worse - making it one of the better family options of the holiday season.
DVD dandies of the week
With some people looking to return gifts and no major releases scheduled to open this week, here are two films to check out on home video.
“Jackass: Number Two” and “The Descent” couldn't be more different, but both succeed in their respective genres.
“Jackass: Number Two” (B-) is the sequel to the immensely popular 2002 film based on the MTV series of the same name.
Even the word “movie,” though, is a misnomer - this is nothing more than Johnny Knoxville and his band of merry pranksters coming up with wild and disturbing stunts to amuse themselves. The stunts include fire hose rodeo, a skateboard gauntlet, and plenty of things too offensive to put in print.
I'll admit, this is an acquired taste. I wasn't a fan of the original, but this time I appreciated the humor for what it was: extremely lowbrow.
Not every gag works, but the “Jackass” gang attacks every moment with vigor and enthusiasm.
This definitely isn't a film for everyone, but if you think a guy making a sock puppet with part of his body (I'll let you guess which part) and taunting a snake with it is funny, then this is the film you've been waiting for.
This week's second pick, “The Descent” (B+), is the best horror film since “The Blair Witch Project”
The film begins with six young women getting together for a cave expedition. The expedition begins to unravel when one of the women gets hurt deep inside the cave. Lost inside the cave, the group desperately tries to find a way out. Then things really get complicated when the women learn they're not alone.
Neil Marshall wrote and directed “The Descent” and does a masterful job of mixing two different elements of horror.
For the first hour, the film plays like a horrible accident that unfolds in terrifying fashion. Then, at its midpoint, “The Descent” shifts gears - thanks to a twist that is best kept secret - and becomes a movie that scares its audience on a completely different level.
“Jackass: Number Two” is rated R for extremely crude and dangerous stunts, sexual content and language. “The Descent” is rated R for strong violence/gore and language. Both films are available on DVD.