Mike Davies reviews the Boxing Day film releases
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM * *
Cert PG 108 mins
From Shawn Levy, the man behind the remake of The Pink Panther (which, depressingly, was also a huge box office hit), this is basically Jumanji in a museum. It's even got Robin Williams. Fortunately, not in Happy Feet overkill but in more restrained mode as a lovesick wax model of Teddy Roosevelt. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
With the exception of the Tenacious D cameo, Ben Stiller's been absent from the screen for two years. You don't really appreciate the break until you see him reprising his familiar everyman with a bit of an attitude caught up in chaos routine as Larry Daley; a failed inventor with a broken marriage (naturally still on good terms with the ex) and a young son to whose expectations he singularly never lives up.
Desperate for a job to avoid another eviction, he takes the night-watchman graveyard shift at New York's Museum of Natural History. Curiously, the three old codgers (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobb) being made redundant are very keen to have him take their place. Given the keys and manual for the night, he's told to make sure nothing gets in....or out.
Yes, that's right. Due to some mystical Egyptian artefact, every night the exhibits come to life, leaving their cases and plinths and roaming the galleries. At which point the plot takes a breather and CGI takes over with Larry beset by a T Rex skeleton that wants to play fetch with one of its own ribs, miniature cowboys and Romans (respectively headed up by Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan) who want to invade each other's diorama and sundry other historical annoyances.
Much the same scenario unfolds on the second night, only this time, with some advice from wise old Teddy, Larry looks to take charge, before we move on to night three when the real agenda behind the three old guards is revealed and Larry gets to redeem himself in his son's eyes and sort out Roosevelt with the Indian squaw he's admired from behind the plate glass.
Oh yes, and show how putting aside our differences and working together can bring about peace and harmony in the world. Ahh. Every bit as frantic as it sounds you have to admire the energy and visual invention, but it works far too hard for the small number of laughs on offer and lacks the dark edge and emotional clout that distinguished Jumanji.
There's a few chuckles with Ricky Gervais as the uptight, oblivious museum director, but Carla Gugini's entirely wasted as the undeveloped romantic interest tour guide while there's something vaguely discomforting about watching veteran Rooney act the squat tough guy with a line in cockeyed insults.
Without wishing to sound patronising, kids will love it, everyone else might feel that history is bunk.
PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER * * * *
Cert 15 147 mins
Adapted from Patrick Suskind's presumed unfilmable novel, part morbid horror part twisted dark love story, this is certainly alternative Boxing Day fare though you may want to skip the turkey leftovers before viewing.
Opening in a mid 18th century Paris fish market so vividly depicted you can almost taste the stench, Tom Tykwer's queasy olfactory thriller follows the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw, a hauntingly uneasy presence) who, as you may gather, is a bit of a sociopath.
Surviving his mom's attempted infanticide, a smothering at the orphanage and brutal apprenticeship in the tannery trade, Jean-Baptiste finds his calling when he discovers a perfume shop and then strangles a young woman he's followed home, bewitched by her smell.
As John Hurt's narrator explains, he's blessed with an incredibly heightened sense of smell, able to detect the subtlest odour. So, when chance leads him to Baldini (Dustin Hoffman, overdoing camp Italian panto grotesque), a faded perfumier who's not had a hit aroma in years, he offers his nasal expertise in return for tutoring in the art of creating perfumes.
For a while, it's a mutually beneficial arrangement, but Grenouille's ambitions reach beyond capturing the essence of flowers and spices.
Ironically lacking any odour of his own, near autistic and soulless while remaining essentially a tragic innocent, he wants to distil the smell that infatuates him. The scent of a woman. It's an obsession that will lead him to the lavender fields of Grasse, perfume capital of the world, reeking murderous havoc in the quest to create the ultimate perfume.
And, to add the final tone, he's set his sights set on the daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) of the eminent merchant (Alan Rickman) leading the serial killer hunt.
Indulgently long, it may keep you at an emotional distance but it's a visually spectacular affair, brilliantly using the camera to conjure the smells on screen and climaxing in an audacious denouement that, part evocative of Fellini's Satyricon, explores the mystical intoxication of raw love as, facing execution after being caught in fragrante delicto so to speak, Grenouille finally uncorks his masterpiece.
Breathe deep and it will overwhelm your senses.
IT'S A BOY/GIRL THING * * *
Cert 12A 94 mins
A British entry in a long line of body swap comedies, as anyone familiar with the genre will know, these predictably involve changing places with someone who annoys you and soul searching messages about discovering things in common and getting to understand them and yourself better.
Both parties almost inevitably have an ethnic friend. As directed by Nick Hurran and written by former Modern Romance singer (you remember Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey) turned writer (Kinky Boots) Geoff Deane, this is no different.
Woody (Kevin Zegers) and Nell (Samaire Armstrong) may be neighbours, but they're worlds apart.
He's an academic slacker and the school's star jock with easy going trailer trash parents Della (Sharon Osbourne showing she can do more than mentor second rate karaoke acts) and kitchen accessories retailer Stan (Maury Chakin).
She's good girl bookish, has no social skills and, encouraged by pushy middle class mom (Sherry Miller) has her sights firmly fixed on Yale. Naturally, when not ignoring each other in disdain, they're arguing.
And so at a trip to the local museum, a convenient mystical Aztec God statue decides to teach them a lesson.
Next morning they wake up in each other's body. It's a bit of a nightmare. And not just because of alien breakfasts and newly acquired naughty bits with minds of their own. Woody's got a vital game that could ensure he doesn't spend his life selling spatulas. Nell's got an interview with Yale.
Since neither's prepared to talk this out, both set out to ruin the reputations of the lives they're reluctantly inhabiting before realising that working together is the only way to help themselves and, obviously, falling in love.
Everything unfolds on cue, complete with body parts humour, hair do disasters, comeuppances for bitchy girlfriends and chauvinist best friends, and, of course, the obligatory High School Prom romantic moment.
It's not as much fun as Freaky Friday but sharp gender confusion gags give it a welcome edge with while, respectively best known for Transamerica and Entourage, Zegers and Armstrong are likeable, charming and genuinely funny channelling their respective opposite sexes, giving a whole new meaning to the term "exchange student".