Think history's a bore? Not if it's a romping, stomping good ride.





Teachers waste a lot of breath attempting to make history come alive, when all they need do is deploy a team of special-effects wizards and costume designers. In the coyly hilarious "Night at the Museum,'' Tyrannosaurus rex roams the earth once more, Teddy Roosevelt rides anew, Attila the Hun returns to the warpath, Lewis and Clark retrace their famous expedition, and cowboys in a diorama spring to life to win the West again.

For all its dazzling computer-generated sequences, "Museum'' wouldn't be nearly the delight it is without the talents of some of the best comedians in the business. The Friars Club is about the only place you'd expect to find Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Britain's Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais together.

But each does his shtick in support of star Ben Stiller as divorced dad Larry, who desperately needs to get on someone's payroll or risk losing joint custody of his son. Looks as if Stiller called in some chips to assemble the stellar cast. That's his mom, Anne Meara (of Stiller & Meara), behind a desk at the employment agency where Larry is handed a job lead that turns out to be more than he or anyone except maybe Walt Disney could imagine.

When Larry is hired as night watchman at New York's Museum of Natural History, his predecessors (played by Van Dyke, Rooney and Bill Cobbs as if they were the Three Stooges, except they turn out to be not so dumb) fail to warn him about the nocturnal wanderings of exhibit figures. Stiller is in super manic mode, his elastic features signaling panic, as Larry chases lions, monkeys and Neanderthals through marble corridors. Director Shawn Levy keeps this CG mayhem under control, although his experience is mostly in live-action movies such as "Cheaper by the Dozen'' and "The Pink Panther.'' ...


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