We went to see Night at the Museum this week with the kids. It was a fun movie -- not a “rolling in the aisles” kind of movie or a “really makes you think” kind of movie, but entertaining and worth the price of the tickets, which I admit was actually $0 since my parents-in-law paid for them. (Thanks guys) There was only one major drawback to the experience that I will get to eventually, but first I have to explain a bit of personal philosophy – something I have dubbed the “Reechard Rule” of movie watching.
It begins with the romantic film Somewhere in Time, which if you missed because you were hiding under a rock during the 80s is about a man named Richard who falls in love with a beautiful actress named Elise McKenna. The only problem is that Elise was born 70 years before Richard and he has to figure out a way to travel back in time to meet her while she’s young and looks like Jane Seymour rather than when she’s old and looks like Dick Cheney. So Richard dresses up in clothes from the early 1900s and learns to hypnotize himself and manages to make the 70 year leap and they fall in love and all is well. That is until the fateful moment (and here’s where my philosophy comes in, thanks for your patience) when the lovers are sharing a blissful picnic on the floor of their hotel room and Richard pulls a 1979 penny from his pocket. He sees the coin and with a look of utter horror realizes that he has broken the spell and thus he is sucked back into his own time, leaving Elise screeching at his vanishing figure with a wail that will forever be remembered and mocked (at least in my circle of friends because we didn’t want to admit that we were sobbing by this point) – “Richard!.... Reeeeeeeechard!!!!”
I think of this scene often because it makes a nice metaphor of the whole movie-watching experience. When I see a movie, I allow myself to be transported – I engage in what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “a willing suspension of disbelief” where I voluntarily turn off my reality sensors so that I can enjoy the show. But sometimes the effort required is just too much and I simply can’t ignore some glaring plot inconsistency or anachronism that jumps out at me like a 1979 penny and I realize that I’m only watching a movie and it’s a stupid movie at that and I’m up to my eyeballs in disbelief. And sometimes the voices in my head yell “Reechard!” at this moment just to bug me, which is why I call this my “Reechard Rule.”
For example, I loved National Treasure and was all caught up in the action and the drama (and willing to ignore the various little technical fallacies along the way) right up until they get a parking spot right outside the museum in Washington D.C. Hello? I’ve been to Washington D.C. several times and the chances of getting a parking spot downtown, let alone snagging that sweet of a spot when you really need it are about zilch. Suddenly the whole film fell apart before my very eyes and I became a cynic who could no longer ignore the fact that Abigail was way too young to have earned a PhD and worked her way into a position of such seniority, and Riley’s goatee kept appearing and disappearing in different shots, and I never really liked Nicolas Cage, and also I shouldn’t have drunk that soda right before the movie because my bladder was uncomfortably full.
Anyway, Night at the Museum was fun and I’m willing to suspend an enormous amount of disbelief when it comes to kids’ movies. But my problem was that Robin Williams is just too big of a star. I love Robin Williams and think he is very funny (and I was a loyal fan even way back in his Mork years, Nanoo Nanoo). But he has long since crossed the threshold where he can pretend to be any character other than himself. I don’t care if he is supposed to be a genie or penguin or stressed-out father figure and he’s acting his little heart out, it will still be him up there on the screen – Robin Williams large as life. [As a side note, I think when actors get to this point, they often star in a film that requires them to completely transform themselves into something radically different, such as a loud, middle-aged woman (as in Mrs. Doubtfire or Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie), but that’s usually their last resort.]
In Night at the Museum, the wax-figure of Teddy Roosevelt (along with everything else in the museum) comes to life at night due to supernatural forces brought to New York by an ancient Egyptian Pharoah’s mummy, and I’m thinking “Sure, I can buy this.” But then Teddy turns around and Hey! it’s Robin Williams™. The first time I saw him, I half expected to hear the theater break out in spontaneous applause like the kind that erupted each time Fonzie made his first appearance in a Happy Days episode. But even without the applause, once Robin showed up, it was all over and soon the pennies were flying at me, one after another. Doink. Doink. Doink. They hit my forehead and left tiny dents of disappointment. They also cracked my resolve to lighten up once in a while and just let myself get carried away by a movie. I can’t help it. Self-hypnosis only works when both participants are willing.