Director: Shawn Levy
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Talk about stretching an idea so thin you can start to see through it. The premise of the first Night at the Museum movie eight years ago was that a magical tablet could bring the exhibits of a New York museum to life at night, which was realised through what at the time were fairly nifty computer generated effects.
Before we get to that there’s a prologue set in 1930s Egypt that gives us a bit of half-hearted background on the tablet, as some Indiana Jones-style tomb raiders disturb it amid the standard warnings of a curse.
For reasons never explained this curse involved absolutely nothing happening for nearly 80 years, but now the tablet is corroding and the exhibits are going screwy. The solution, invented by the film’s writers for no reason other than it would be nice to go to London, is that they must go to the British Museum to try to free the curse.
Or something. Because none of it follows a remotely logical or coherent path, and there’s really very little to it in terms of threat or excitement. The situation is paper-thin, the jokes are lame and the special effects aren’t even particularly special. It looks pretty horrible too, the direction is lacklustre and it seems scaled down from previous instalments.
There’s the need for some uninspired padding involving Larry’s teenage son, and whether he will or won’t go to college. Another exciting subplot to look out for in the fourth film; will Larry do the dishes or leave them until the morning?
Yet for some reason it’s perfectly watchable and affable, mostly thanks to a game cast, and mostly thanks to Dan Stevens. He pops up as Sir Lancelot and has some fun with the action shenanigans while also demonstrating a nice way with comic timing as he fails to understand anything going on around him.
In the end this is unlikely to be remembered as one of the great trilogies. Really it barely passes muster, and in a few years there might not even be many people who remember it was a trilogy at all.
But it rattles along quickly and it’s never dull, which actually counts for something. And if it looks like it’s only scraping a third star by the skin of its teeth, which it is, that’s because it’s Christmas, and it’s because we get to see Dick Van Dyke dance.