Ah, the holidays. That wondrous time of the year when we take comfort in the familiar: Family gatherings. Caroling with friends. Decorating trees. Baking cookies. Going to the movies to watch monkeys urinate on Ben Stiller …
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” the third in the series and the second to open around the holidays, isn’t exactly, “Oh, this again.”
It’s more like, “Hey, let’s go do that thing we did that one Christmas.”
Stiller reprises his role as Larry, the nightwatchman at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, who rides herd on the mischievous exhibits that come alive each night.
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Eight years on, the rampaging, puppy-like T-Rex skeleton fossil, the living wax statue of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), the tiny cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and the Roman centurion Octavius (Steve Coogan) have become regular museum attractions. The magic is explained to the public (and museum donors) as mere “special effects.”
All is well in this happy little world until the mystical Egyptian artifact that brings everyone to life begins to lose its mojo. Having already made a trip to the Smithsonian in the 2009 sequel, the gang must escape this dire situation by taking the tablet to its Egyptian owners, who are on exhibit at London’s British Museum.
Despite its change of venue, “Secret” covers all the ground trod in the original but loses any sense of wonder. Where the first had the T-Rex, this one also has a triceratops. The first had Teddy, this one also has Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens, late of “Downton Abbey”). And so on.
Judging only by the franchise, the museums seem to have scant few exhibits featuring women and even fewer featuring people of color, as if Africa beyond Egypt had no role in either country’s history. Lewis and Clark’s Shoshone guide Sacajawea — played by Mizuo Peck, an actress of Japanese, Irish, English and Cherokee descent — returns … to say one line.
Slavery rates a mention — the Egyptian king Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) says he “loves the Jews.”
“We owned 40,000 of them,” he says. “Always happy and singing …”
“No,” Larry corrects, meekly. “No, not … no, no. They weren’t happy.”
That exchange is one of a handful of interesting, novel or funny moments. Stiller himself goes all-in for his dual role as a Neanderthal. Though she manages to make two poo jokes in the first three minutes of screen time, Rebel Wilson livens the proceedings as London’s counterpart to Larry.
And, well, I’m sorry, a monkey whizzing on people is funny.
Otherwise, Shawn Levy’s third chapter exists mostly as a chance for closure. Stiller appears to be bidding adieu to the franchise, while Williams and Mickey Rooney make some of their final film appearances here. Rooney, who plays a retired guard, died in April, while Williams took his own life in August. The camera lingers on Williams several times near the end, as his character says his goodbyes. Expect a tear or at least a chin quiver.
Scatalogical humor aside, “Secret of the Tomb” is the friendliest of family-friendly films. While it occasionally draws out some real emotion, “Secret” offers nothing you didn’t see in the first two. But at this time of year, no one’s going to complain if a gift turns out to be a duplicate of something received eight years ago.
After all, it’s Christmas.
To reach David Frese, call 816-234-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: DavidFrese.
‘NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB’
Rated PG | Time: 1:38