“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” serves as both a prequel and a finale to director Shawn Levy’s “Night at the Museum” trilogy, but it will probably be best remembered as a fond farewell for Robin Williams.
The film opens with a prologue set in 1930s Egypt, where a group of archaeologists have just discovered the Tablet of Ahkmenrah in a long-forgotten tomb. It comes with a cryptic, if obligatory, warning: Disturbing the tomb will bring about "The End."
Fast forward to present day, and The End is just about to get started. Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is reaping the full benefits of his position at New York’s Museum of Natural History, putting on spectacular educational performances with exhibits that come to life once the sun goes down.
All your favorites are on board. Jedediah the cowboy (Owen Wilson) is still doing buddy comedy with Octavius the Roman (Steve Coogan). Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) and Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) are still bringing Native American and Egyptian cultures to life, respectively, and Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) is still riding around the hallways on his trusty steed.
Dexter the monkey is also back to steal scenes with a vengeance, and there’s one new character: a Neanderthal who looks suspiciously like Larry.
Larry’s world is clicking with clocklike precision, but it isn’t going to last. Halfway through a performance, the exhibits start acting strangely, and eventually Larry figures out that the Tablet of Ahkmenrah, which grants the exhibits the ability to come to life every night, is corroding.
After a little more investigation, Larry decides to take the tablet to London, where the other half of the Egyptian exhibit is on display. His hope is that bringing the pieces together will restore order.
In London, Larry and his tagalong crew meet a whole new group of exhibits that come to life, including Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), a triceratops and Ahkmenrah’s parents, played by Anjali Jay and Sir Ben Kingsley. Rebel Wilson also plays a featured role as a bumbling security guard.
It’s all fodder for more sight gags and witty dialogue, which hide the fact that there isn’t much else going on. A family movie like this isn’t the type to have a lot of gripping conflict. But even so, “Secret of the Tomb” feels a little lightweight on the story end. Most of the narrative is pretty linear, and it feels even thinner than its 90-minute run time.
“Secret of the Tomb” is more of a fond sendoff for Stiller and Co. than anything else, and a late epilogue reinforces that point. It’s a bittersweet moment for longtime fans of Robin Williams, whose character beams with the actor’s trademark smile but is ratcheted several steps below his celebrated frenzied delivery.
Williams is not the only actor bidding us farewell in “Secret of the Tomb.” Longtime Hollywood veteran Mickey Rooney, who also appeared in the first “Night at the Museum” back in 2006 and died earlier this year, makes a brief appearance early in the film alongside Dick Van Dyke, who plays the security guard who preceded Larry.
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” is rated PG for some mild profanity and crude humor, as well as a few frightening moments.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.