Ben Stiller is Larry Daley, a divorced dad who’s suffered a string of bad ideas that led to crappy jobs, multiple relocations and assorted disappointments for his pre-teen son, Nick (Jake Cherry). Desperate to impress the boy, Larry agrees to take the only job a beleaguered career counselor (Stiller’s mom, Anne Meara) offers: to be the night guard at New York’s Museum of Natural History.
When he shows up on his first day, Larry’s met by a crusty trio of old-timers (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs), who share knowing looks about the demands of the job as they issue cryptic warnings and hand over a tattered, dog-eared list of “duties” (which, of course, Larry disregards) before giving Larry the keys to the joint.
Before you can say “Vickie’s worst nightmare,” the sun sets and everything in the museum suddenly springs to life. Statues, wax figures, stuffed animals and hundreds of pint-sized diorama figurines – not the least of which are Jedediah (Owen Wilson), a gunslinger from an Old West diorama, and his arch-nemeisis, the equally puny Octavius (Steve Coogan) from the neighboring Ancient Rome exhibit. A giant T-Rex skeleton in the lobby morphs into a jumbo-sized puppy, and the heroic Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) trots around on his steed, dispensing sage advice and pining for the Sacajawea figure (Mizuo Peck) stuck in the Lewis and Clark display.
All the while, a terrified Larry is seriously freaking out. Chaos reigns. Mayhem ensues. The book of rules/duties proves helpful, if futile. Jedediah and Octavius engage in battle repeatedly. And it all has something to do with an ancient Egyptian relic that hangs above the sarcophagus of a seemingly perturbed, mummified king eager to escape his gold-plated coffin.
CGI effects and some terrific comedic performances help keep the proceedings moving briskly, and the action never wanes or becomes boring. Wilson and Coogan are by far the best things about the film. Their teeny, tiny antics – peppered with Wilson’s trademark doofus act and Coogan’s wonderfully dry wit – were easily my favorite parts of the entire picture. Stiller is appropriately manic (see also: Robin Williams), and Ricky Gervais pops in for a brief but deeeeliciously snooty turn as the museum’s persnickety director.
Unfortunately, some of Stiller’s co-stars wind up left in the cold – Carla Gugino is barely there as a would-be love interest, and the always delightful Paul Rudd is relegated to a handful of lines as Larry’s ex’s new beau. It’s too bad, because I enjoy both actors and would have liked to have seen more of them instead of, say, the entire storyline involving Larry’s dullard son.
Nonetheless, the film is an exuberant ride and makes for perfect holiday viewing. If you found Jumanji even the least bit entertaining, you’ll no doubt like this one. I know I did.