The aptly subtitled “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” is a blast of dead air and mummified humor. Suitable only for children too young to remember the first two movies or too undiscerning to care about the level of wit represented by a urinating monkey, this tepid retread should be the last item on your holiday list of movie options for the family, right after “Into the Woods,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Unbroken” and “Annie.”
Relocating the action of the story from New York’s Museum of Natural History to the British Museum does nothing to resuscitate the creaky franchise, which involves hijinks by a bunch of museum artifacts that have sprung to life. It was already moribund by its excursion to Washington in the second installment, 2009’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” Even Rebel Wilson, playing a saucy, cockney counterpart to Ben Stiller’s American museum guard Larry Daley, isn’t enough to shock the patient back to life.
That said, there are a few moments of genuine verve that spike up the generally flatlining plot, in which Larry travels to London with such old standbys as Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), the aforementioned monkey and other refugees from museum dioramas back home. Chief among those moments are Larry’s interactions with a caveman named La.
Also played by Stiller — whose prominent brow is well utilized in the rendering of Larry’s dreadlocked Neanderthal doppelganger — the almost entirely inarticulate La is a nice counterpart to Larry’s wry deadpan.
Another clever scene centers on the M.C. Escher print “Relativity,” into whose optically illusory staircases Larry and the Arthurian knight Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) — a denizen of the armor hall — have tumbled, in pursuit of the charmed Egyptian tablet that is at the center of all three films. It’s a mildly cool special effect, as is one involving several bronze lions that come alive, only to chase the beam of Larry’s flashlight, like kittens.
The best joke, though, is a cameo by one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, playing himself, in a gently self-deprecating turn that takes place in the middle of a London theater production of “Camelot.” I will leave the name unmentioned, in hopes of preserving some modicum of surprise.
Otherwise, the movie is a recycling bin of bits worn out in the earlier films, such as a sight gag involving a dinosaur skeleton that acts like a dog. Other than some stock establishing shots of London, the British setting is wasted, as are Ben Kingsley and Ricky Gervais, who, at times, seem almost embarrassed to be caught on camera.
The film ends with on-screen tributes to two actors who died after making “Secret of the Tomb”: Williams and Mickey Rooney, who appears briefly, frail and in a wheelchair, in a reprise of his role from the first film. The farewell doubles as a sweet send-off to a cash cow that’s finally being put out to pasture after running out of milk — and ideas — two movies ago.
PG. Area theaters. Contains some rude humor and language and mild action. 100 minutes.