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‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’: Please do not touch

Sitting through the nearly laugh-free, consistently cheesy and thoroughly tiresome final chapter in the “Night at the Museum” trilogy, I wondered:

Did anybody involved in the making of this movie actually believe it was quality effort?

This is not to disparage the efforts of the hundreds of behind-the-scenes professionals, not to mention the talented cast. I just find it hard to believe they truly believed this thing was any good. It comes across as the very definition of lackluster, going-through-motions filmmaking.

They might as well have titled it “Night at the Museum: Contractual Obligation.”

Ben Stiller, a smart and savvy show business insider who knows how the game is played, seems preoccupied in his third go-round as Larry, the security guard turned director of nighttime operations at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come to life after dark.

A prologue set in the 1930s explains the discovery of the magical Tablet of Akmenrah, the Egyptian artifact that wound up in the New York museum and became the force that gave life to the wax figures of Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams) and Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), as well the as skeletal remains of dinosaurs and other creatures.

Cut to present day, and the gold on the tablet is corroding, leading to erratic behavior on the part of the creatures. If the tablet can’t be restored, everyone “dies,” i.e., goes back to being lifeless figures, paintings, sculptures, etc.

Director Shawn Levy and a team of writers never miss a chance to have the clunky CGI characters dance to overly used songs such as “Boogie Wonderland,” or to depend on a urinating capuchin monkey to punch home a scene. Nearly every visual joke comes across as desperate.

As Larry tries to figure out what’s wrong with the tablet, we meet some new characters, including a caveman named Laaa, who is also played by Stiller and isn’t as interesting as one of those Geico cavemen. Meanwhile, Larry’s teenage son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) wants to take a year off from college so he can DJ in Ibiza, and wow is that an uninteresting subplot.

In a move that screams “Change of venue!,” Larry and the gang journey to London so they can reunite the tablet with its rightful owners: the Pharoah Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) and his wife Shepseheret (Anjali Jay). Only the pharoah knows the secret to restoring the tablet!

SPOILER ALERT! This leads to the one kinda-great moment in the movie. Here’s Ben Kingsley, who plays the Hebrew leader in the much-maligned “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” now playing an ancient pharaoh who tells Larry the Jews were always a happy people, always singing as they worked for him. Larry says, yeah, they weren’t really happy.

And then we get back to the stupid stuff.

Dan Stevens from “Downton Abbey” plays Sir Lancelot, who becomes convinced the tablet is the Holy Grail. Stevens tries hard, but Lancelot is more irritating idiot than anything.

Rebel Wilson also is wasted as the talkative, dim-bulb security guard manning a booth outside the British museum, as if it’s a department store in Omaha. (One thinks there might be a few more security personnel working the night shift inside the museum.) Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan return as the miniature cowboy and Roman centurion, respectively, and one can only imagine the muttering these two gifted pros did between takes or in their trailers.

Late in the film, there’s a cameo by a major star playing himself, but even that opportunity is botched. The scene isn’t funny, it’s just … long. And it doesn’t even make sense within the cartoonish framework of the story.

The dialogue is schmaltzy and often painfully unfunny. The special effects are often so 1980s-bad, one wonders if it was a deliberate choice, to make the creepy visuals of sculptures dancing and paintings moving less frightening to young viewers. Time and again, terrific actors sink in the equivalent of cinematic quicksand, helpless against the sucking sound of this movie.

[s3r star=1.5/4]

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Shawn Levy and written by David Guion and Michael Handelman. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated PG (for mild action, some rude humor and brief language). Opens Friday at local theaters.