When New York’s Natural History Museum’s head of night operations Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) sees his exhibits go bonkers when they're supposed to be masquerading as special effects at a gala, he discovers Ahkmenrah's Tablet, which brings them to life at night, has begun to deteriorate. After convincing his disgraced boss McPhee (Ricky Gervais) to trust him, Larry, along with his soon-to-be-adult son Nick (Skyler Gisondo, the "Amazing Spider-Man" reboots), heads for London's British Museum where Ahkmenrah's father Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) might hold the answer to "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb."
Is this the end of a franchise or the beginning of a new one? By introducing Larry's British counterpart Tilly (Rebel Wilson) and introducing new characters across the pond, one fears the latter, but given the tired nature of this latest offering, if the show must go on, London might make for a refreshing change. This third installment's VIP is 'Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, exhibiting a surprising knack for comedy as Sir Lancelot, but Stiller seems strangely enervated as Larry (his new character, caveman Laaa, is a different story) and Robin Williams, in his last screen appearance, barely there. David Guion & Michael Handelman's ("Dinner for Schmucks") screenplay (with an additional story credit for Mark Friedman) is weak and inconsistent, but series director Shawn Levy mines some laughs out of a few special effects set pieces.
After a prologue which reveals the finding of Ahkmenrah's (Rami Malek, "The Master") tomb in 1938 by an archeologist, whose son, CJ, turns out to be retired museum guard Cecil (Dick Van Dyke, sporting some serious dance moves), we find newly promoted Larry ready to unleash his pals on a high society gala crowd in the Hayden Planetarium. Ahkmenrah calls his attention to a strange green decay working its way across his Tablet, but Larry waves it off for the next day. His light show, capped by capuchin Dexter's (Crystal) aerial stunt, wows the assemblage, but when Teddy (Williams) goes into a stutter skip during his narration, all hell breaks lose. Stiller is unnaturally calm in its aftermath.
In London, Rebel Wilson's Tilly gets not just one, but two 'poo' jokes into her introduction before allowing Larry's van to enter the facility. When he opens his crate for Ahkmenrah, he finds that Teddy, Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), the new Neanderthal Laaa, Dexter and miniatures cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Roman Centurion Octavius (Steve Coogan) have stowed away to help. As they make their way towards 'Egypt,' the tablet awakens the British exhibits and their first obstacle is a Triceratops (a Rexy repeat). Saved by Lancelot, he joins their quest, but his own for the Holy Grail is always uppermost in his mind.
There's an amusing encounter with an Asian multi-headed serpent and the little gold imp who tries to bar them from entering its realm, an inventive plunge into M.C. Escher's impossibly-dimensioned 'Relativity and Jedediah and Octavius's encounter with a Pompeii diorama, the latter of which is capped by another of the series' recycled gags. Laaa, who insists on calling Larry 'dada,' is sent to keep Tilly occupied and things get weird. Lancelot goes AWOL out into the streets of London where he's sidelined by a stage production of 'Camelot' with surprise guest stars. With individual scenes, the movie can work, but Levy can't get the whole to hang together in a satisfying way. The three-way father and son theme (Larry and Nick, Larry and Laaa, Ahkmenrah and Merenkahre) feels forced and unsatisfying - there's more real pathos between Larry and Dexter during the film's climax.
Stevens, who by film's end gives new meaning to the phrase 'runny nose,' is by far the most entertaining character here. Crystal proves why she's Hollywood's go-to capuchin and Wilson and Coogan have one of those homophobic buddy acts going that is at least lively. But for the most part, the rest of the cast appear to have fallen to the Tablet's deteriorating effects. Bill Cobbs and the late Mickey Rooney also cameo.
Robin did not see this film.
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