Ben Stiller’s family-friendly franchise has come a long way. It began as a frantic frenzy of special effects back in 2006, begat an infinitely more inspired sequel in 2009 and now ends on a high note with Secret of the Tomb, an entry full of surprising creativity and lots of laughs that also serves as a touching farewell to Robin Williams.
Stiller reprises his role as Larry Daley, night guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where come nightfall, thanks to a magic golden tablet, the exhibits come to life. This time ‘round, the tablet starts short-circuiting and affecting the exhibits’ behavior, so Larry and a few of the exhibits head on over to the British Museum in London in hopes of finding a solution.
The plotting remains a mere excuse for returning director Shawn Levy to let loose a herd of historical figures, and the British Museum doesn’t offer quite the variety of exhibits of the second flick’s Smithsonian setting. But we do get out of America, and the new surroundings again mean the new exhibits that come alive aren’t used to being so, making Stiller and company’s quest all the sillier.
Hilarious, too. If they’re not evading a Triceratops skeleton that doesn’t go for Stiller’s go-fetch tactic or fighting a nine-headed-snake statue, they’re messing around in an M.C. Escher staircase painting (the film’s highlight) or, in the case of Owen Wilson’s tiny cowboy and Steve Coogan’s tiny Roman General, fleeing lava flows. They also get to meet the parents (Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) of the NY museum’s resident pharaoh (Rami Malek).
And almost every single member of the cast here makes a funny and memorable mark—Wilson and Coogan, Rebel Wilson (as a Brit security guard), Ricky Gervais (back as the NY museum’s director), Skyler Gisondo (as Stiller’s teen son) and Patrick Gallagher (as Atilla the Hun). Stiller, amusing enough as straight man Larry, also earns laughs playing a lookalike caveman. (Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve also make hilarious cameo appearances as themselves.)
Ex-Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens steals the show, though, as a cocky version of Lancelot, drolly ridiculing Stiller at every turn and nearly supplanting him as father figure to Gisondo. Williams, returning as Teddy Roosevelt, gets to display some of his patented manic improvisation, but also reminds us how well he could play warm and wise. While his passing renders his performance, and the movie itself, all the more poignant, he leaves us mostly doing what he did best: making us laugh. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 3/10/15