Night at the Museum 3 turned out to be one of Robin Williams' final films, which I must admit increased my interest in seeing it. But first, not actually having seen any of the Night at the Museum films, I needed to start at the beginning. Since pretty much everyone else has seen it but me, I probably don't need to tell you that Night at the Museum is a fun little family-friendly adventure in a museum where the exhibits come to life at night. The fun lies partly in a series of gimmicks about different historical periods and people, and mostly in the talents of a rather wide-ranging cast of comedians.
I tend to prefer "wacky, outlandish Ben Stiller" to "straight man Ben Stiller" (that is, I enjoyed Zoolander or Tropic Thunder far more than Meet the Parents), but he's well cast here. The minimal plot of the movie asks the audience to identify with him as a shiftless father trying to clean up his act for his son, and Stiller manages to hit those notes fairly well. And he's great in the movie's more slapstick moments (even if almost anybody could be funny fighting with a monkey).
A trio of older actors -- Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs -- are rather entertaining as well, largely because they're cast against type for a fun plot twist. Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson (the latter of whom is, for some reason, uncredited) get a surprising number of laughs out of one-note characters. And Carla Gugino, Ricky Gervais, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-him Paul Rudd are all perfectly fine.
But the real all-star of the movie, to no surprise, is Robin Williams. Playing Teddy Roosevelt, he gets to have a lot of fun as the wise mentor of the story. But he gets one unexpectedly emotional speech in the third act of the film, in which Roosevelt acknowledges his own false nature. The speech comes right in the middle of an action sequence, and could easily have brought the film to a screeching halt. Instead, it actually tugs at the heartstrings more than any other moment in the movie. (And not, I think, just because of the melancholy inherent in his untimely passing.) This is the one moment of gravitas in a two-hour confection of fun and silliness. And it totally works.