Night at the Museum - Secret of the Tomb review: Not a prize exhibit of Robin Williams' talent
The latest outing of this tired series is a sad swansong for the late stars Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney, says Andrew Johnston.
Shawn Levy must have one of the most wretched CVs of any working filmmaker. Responsible for launching the Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum and rebooted Pink Panther franchises, Levy has been behind a slew of cinematic guff that would make McG blush. Last year's The Internship was a love letter to big business masquerading as a comedy, while Levy's recent detour into supposed 'serious' cinema, the execrable This Is Where I Leave You, is surely a contender for the worst film of 2014.
But now, even that hateful piece of celluloid has some competition from Levy's own latest work.
Lacking the forgiving fan appeal of other 2014 turkeys such as Frank, Interstellar or The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is unlikely even to appeal to followers of this dubious fantasy-comedy series (as hard as it is to fathom that such people actually exist, and yet they do, to the tune of more than half a billion quid in box office takings).
How one director could take the combined talents of Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney and produce a film with not a single laugh contained within its mercifully short 98 minutes is perhaps the most amazing thing about this special effects-heavy threequel.
That it took three writers - Mark Friedman, David Guion and Michael Handelman - to pen this dreck is another head-scratcher. One can only surmise the trio must have been taking it in turns to Tipp-ex out one another's jokes, until there was merely exposition and stage directions left.
As for the cast, they make little effort to conceal their contempt for the whole enterprise. Stiller, whose own filmography has descended into an apparent postmodern experiment to create laugh-free comedy, only comes alive when playing the lovestruck caveman Laa in a handful of scenes.
The actor's patience with his main character, the enfeebled security guard Larry Daley, seems to have long run out.
In this belated instalment, which comes five years after Night at the Museum 2 - a long time in the juvenile target audience's lives - nightwatchman Daley embarks on a globetrotting quest to save the magic Egyptian tablet that brings the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History to life after dark, while simultaneously attempting to bond with his rebellious son, played by Skyler Gisondo as a PG-certificate American version of Harry Enfield's Kevin the Teenager.
To give the flick some credit, it at least isn't shot in 3D, and Levy does deliver a couple of visually creative set-pieces. Notably, a slapstick sequence that takes place inside MC Escher's Relativity painting is a neat idea, though even this falls far short of the heights these movies could scale if they tried.
Elsewhere, Gervais gamely musters his usual schtick, guest star Ben Kingsley bags the script's sole subversive joke, and Wilson and Coogan engage in some lively back-and-forth, albeit all at the mercy of Levy's rotten editing.
But an attempt to set up Rebel Wilson's British Museum security guard as the one to take the franchise into part four and beyond is as cynical as it is ill-conceived.
And the final kick in the head is that this filmic farago has proven to be the big-screen swansong for comic legends Williams and Rooney, a state of affairs that is nothing short of tragic.