Night At The Museum cast steals show

The funny Rebel Wilson (right, with Ricky Gervais) is underutilised. -- PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The funny Rebel Wilson (right, with Ricky Gervais) is underutilised. -- PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Review: Comedy-fantasy

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (PG)

98 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***

The story: The ancient Egyptian tablet that brings the exhibits at New York's Museum Of Natural History to life at night is decaying and threatening their existence. In this third and final movie of the Night At The Museum series, museum security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and his exhibit friends go to the British Museum in London to locate the Egyptian pharaoh displayed there who can restore the tablet's life-giving power.

By now, even museumgoers who do not go to the movies must know that the main draw in this Night At The Museum series is the exciting discovery of exhibits coming alive at night in the empty corridors.

But that sense of wonderment is long gone with the first film, which director Shawn Levy helmed in 2006, a thrill one could not revive even if there were a magical enchanted tablet.

You just cannot recycle the fun of that original dinosaur skeleton - a Tyrannosaurus Rex - being tamed like a puppy by hapless security guard Larry Daley (Stiller).

Still, the continental change from the series' original New York locale to London's British Museum and the entry of English actor Dan Stevens (TV's Downton Abbey) and Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect) - gives the show a bit of a cross-cultural resuscitation.

And, because the second flick Battle Of The Smithsonian (2009) had planes, Amelia Earhart and a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln colliding in a pointless, over-the-top commotion, this final Part III is actually a pleasant, harmless and wholesome way to wrap up the franchise.

Cameo-watchers, look out for the funny appearance of a megastar spoofing himself near the end.

But, sadly, this movie is also made more poignant by the posthumous presence of two famed comics who have been with the series since Day One - Mickey Rooney and the iconic Robin Williams as the chirpy President Theodore Roosevelt.

In this swansong, by a stroke of eerie coincidence, the late Williams seems noticeably more subdued and pensive as the wax figures are in danger of losing their powers of life - it is as though this is his ominous goodbye too.

Secret Of The Tomb - not as good as the first movie, but not as bad as the second one either - attempts to recapture the purposefulness of the original movie, where there was a sense of a quest, a journey through ornate halls where historical figures and familiar artwork sprung amazingly to life.

Check out the scene where Stiller's Daley dives into a classic M.C. Escher painting of endless, trompe-l'oeil staircases.

In fact, there really is a quest going on here. An indefatigably buoyant, comically dashing Sir Lancelot (Stevens) is on a grand, deluded adventure to find the love of his waxy life, Guinevere.

The chap holds fort and fights an awakened Chinese serpent while waxing lyrical - "One day I promise you we must drink dragon's blood from the victor's cup" - with the aplomb of an over-glorified Brit twit. Taken in small doses, he is fairly amusing.

Meanwhile, Daley leads his team - Roosevelt, Attila the Hun (Glee's Patrick Gallagher), the miniature pair of cowboy Owen Wilson and Roman centurion Steve Coogan, and even Dexter the all-seeing, all-peeing monkey - into the bowels of the British Museum to find the Egyptian pharaoh Ahkmenrah's (Rami Malek) very ancient dad (Ben Kingsley) to seek his help in restoring the magical tablet which gives the exhibits life.

As with every old thing, the tablet is decaying and losing its power, thus threatening to send President Roosevelt and pals back into permanently frozen display.

The funny, scene-stealing Wilson, playing Daley's British counterpart with the sass of a neglected English dolly, is criminally under-used here. Why, for instance, is her discovery of the exhibits coming to life, potentially a comical high point, completely missing here?

You are left then with the usually dour Kingsley picking up the slack unexpectedly as a jolly good pharaoh. He has the film's best line, which ironically threatens its family-oriented values.

"You are speaking to the pharaoh, kiss my staff," he commands Daley, while holding on to his big imperial stick of power.

Even Robin Williams would have giggled at that.