New characters bring camp to Night At The Museum franchise

Ben Stiller (right) as the security guard Larry cracks jokes and takes a dig at himself. -- PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Ben Stiller (right) as the security guard Larry cracks jokes and takes a dig at himself. -- PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

New characters bring camp to Night At The Museum franchise

At the start of the latest run of the Night At the Museum series, security guard Larry (Ben Stiller) has it all under control. The exhibits who come alive after sunset become "special effects" in his night circus show for the American Museum of Natural History, with Roosevelt as an in-house ringmaster, Rexy the dinosaur as a would-be elephant, Genghis Khan as, well, Genghis Khan, and Sacagawea his production manager.

It is all good - until the pharaoh Ahkmenrah brings to his attention corrosion issues on the golden tablet responsible for all that magic. Without this, the exhibits start misbehaving, melting or freezing.

The solution? An extension of the film - and franchise - overseas to the British Museum, where new audiences, markets and, of course, characters await with secrets to the restoration of the shiny Egyptian calculator.

Director Shawn Levy, 46, says at a press conference for Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb in London's Claridges Hotel: "The visual effects and spectacle get a lot of attention, but my favourite part of this franchise is the cast, everyone comes to this with a sense of play."

He is referring not just to by-now familiar appearances of Stiller and his partners in crime Robin Williams (Roosevelt) and Owen Wilson (Jedediah). Enter the arrival of new faces, via Downton Abbey and Gandhi: Period drama heart-throb Dan Stevens joins the cast as over-the-top and chivalrous Sir Lancelot, while Ben Kingsley brings some surprising camp in golden robes as Ahkmenrah's father.

For Stevens, 32, this was his first comedic role in a while. He had to put on seven different armoured suits of 20kg each to do his scenes. He reckons: "Trying on the armour - it wore me down, I had a very bad back."

Kingsley, 70, speaks of the "extraordinary welcome" by the Night family: "It's like going to somebody's house when they're comfortable in their home - the way they open the front door is really gracious."

The hidden treasure of the third instalment, how- ever, must surely be Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson (the evil housemate Brynn in Bridesmaids and Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect). The 28-year-old who steals the show with her "golden poo" of a hairdo is a va-va-voom security guard who lip-locks Larry's alter-ego La, a Neanderthal also played by Stiller.

She reveals: "I tasted a lot of Ben Stiller. Because of the prosthetics, it tastes a lot like rubbing alcohol.

"He was precious about his prosthetic lips so when my kissing got quite romantic and passionate, he was a bit concerned."

Stiller retorts, in his comedy duo's straight-man quip: "We were trying to push the boundaries for a family movie."

As one would expect, there is plenty of jollying around in the movie with the relocation of the scene to London - "where it rained every day of filming" - so Stiller tells reporters. Within the thinnest of plots, escapades to tourist landmarks of Trafalgar Square and the West End via a London bus are made in the name of comic consequences, as new gags - featuring cameos by Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve - are thrown in for Christmas stocking fillers.

Through it all, star of the show Stiller, 49, manages to take a few digs at himself and crack Hollywood inside jokes. While he also attempted a few serious action scenes, the actor admits that he would do them only in the name of laughs and with the help of green screen technology. The hard work he left to the professionals.

He says: "I was doing stuff with my flashlight, but there's nothing there. Really what you should do is to take mime classes. There's nothing to connect there, it's just Shawn - 'It's coming from the left! Duck!'"

It was not all fun and games, of course, as the movie also marked one of the final appearances of two Hollywood legends - Robin Williams, who died in August earlier in the year, and nonagenarian Mickey Rooney.

Stiller paid tribute to Williams: "I never took it for granted, working with Robin, because I was always a huge fan of his. Growing up, for me, he was one of my comedic idols… this was the only chance I had to work with him.

"Every time we got to work together in these movies, I was always excited. He was very generous and kind and would make everybody feel as if they were an equal. It was fun to be around him and have him treat you that way, but really, I was always really just a fan. I feel really lucky to have had that opportunity to spend that time with him and to be in the movies with him. It's great that the movies exist. For me, it's the experience I'll take away."

A parting shot in the last few scenes of the film has turned out to be a retrospectively poignant affair, as cast and crew literally say goodbye to Williams in the moment of bidding each other farewell.

While punters talk of how the franchise could very well travel to China's terracotta warriors next, in search of even newer markets, director Levy says the curtains are finally coming down.

Viewers will have to watch for another holey plot moment where the loop in the actual film is closed, but Levy calls it a day once and for all: "I think right now, in our minds, this third movie brings closure to the franchise and to the characters."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb opens in Singapore tomorrow.


WHAT I WANT TO SEE COME ALIVE AT HOME AT NIGHT

Three cast members of Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb reveal their choices:


ST 20141224 DAN 927006m

“In my house, we have a thing called Dinovember. Every night in November, the dinosaurs come to life and wreak havoc. Every morning, the kids come downstairs and they’ve either been through the fridge or ripped open magazines or something. It’s fine for a first couple of weeks, but after 20 days, my wife and I kind of struggled to come up with something.”

Dan Stevens


ST 20141224 NIGHT0UYL 926972m

“I do have a portrait of Napoleon and I would rather like to have a chat with him. Only for a limited amount of time and may be for 20 minutes.”

Ben Kingsley


ST 20141224 BEN 926991m

“I don’t know. I mean… I can’t say my wife, right?”

Ben Stiller (with wife Christine Taylor)