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Night at the Museum 2 (Wii)

Rated: U.

Story: In the original Night at the Museum, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) takes a job as a night guard at the New York Natural History Museum, only to discover that the exhibits come to life after dark thanks to the power of a magical Egyptian tablet.

In this one, the exhibits get shipped off to the Smithsonian and some nefarious wax-works, including Napoleon and Al Capone, take the opportunity to seize the tablet and attempt to unleash a mystical army to conquer the world. The tablet becomes broken into pieces and Larry must reunite it to reverse the spell and save the day.

Gameplay: This is a third-person adventure. You must guide Larry round various museums, hunting for the pieces of the tablet. You can run, jump and climb and occasionally use vehicles. The magic of the tablet gives Larry's keychain whip-like abilities for swinging across gaps and long-distance grabbing. Each piece of the tablet gives Larry's flashlight a new power. These powers include fixing things, making machines work, bringing paintings to life and controlling animals. Utilising these powers allows progress through the museums. For instance, a picture of a door can be turned into an actual door, while a rhino can be used to charge down a gateway. Hostile wax-works have to be avoided or somehow defeated using the flashlight.

There are also plenty of hidden items to collect and a few side quests to complete.

Save System: Progress is automatically saved at checkpoints.

Comments: Working on a videogame tie-in to a movie aimed primarily at children must be something of a thankless task. Pity the poor developer who goes to a party, gets asked what they've been working on and has to admit it's Night at the Museum... 2... on Wii. Anyone who has a clue is going to assume it's a low-budget rush job with gimmicky motion controls tacked on. Everyone else is going to ask what it was like meeting Ben Stiller.

Imagine having to admit that even the guy modelling Ben Stiller's face didn't meet Ben Stiller:

Ben Stiller in the Night at the Museum 2 game... allegedly...

Such situations must be particularly frustrating in cases where the developers have managed to produce the foundations of a decent game but not had the proper time and resources to realise that potential. Sadly, their only consolation is that the final quality is unlikely to make much difference to sales figures anyway - grans and eight-years-olds don't read internet reviews...

Yep, Night at the Museum 2 has some good ideas and the initial level raises hopes of a Zelda-style adventure where you gradually unlock new powers and use them to solve complex puzzles while exploring large, open environments. Unfortunately, it quickly transpires that the largest level is only about five rooms big and nearly all the puzzles involve running a few feet to a big glowing spot on the floor, switching on your flashlight and invoking the correct power. In case you're easily confused, your satchel glows to let you know you can use a power and a handy voice-over from one of the characters tells you which one would be best. Just to make doubly sure, you have a flashlight power which can be used specifically to find out which other flashlight powers you can use in a particular spot. Oh, and if that isn't enough, you have a map which tells you exactly where to go and what to do. (Sadly, there are no hints to help you if you've misplaced your wiimote, can't remember where you live or have forgotten your own name...)

There are some platforming sections where life gets a bit more tricky but that's mainly because of poor design and unresponsive controls. The vehicle sections are noticeably less polished than the rest of the game but are thankfully very brief.

The game isn't a total disaster, however. Nothing is dreadfully broken and it's strangely satisfying being told you've finished 'a quest' every few seconds, making the whole experience reasonably amiable. Use of motion-sensing is limited to a bit of flicking and pointing, which actually works quite well. The writing and cutscenes give the game a certain charm and help maintain attention. (This is presumably because they've been copied closely from the movie, so they won't be as entertaining if you've seen it already. On the other, if you haven't seen the film, the game is going to spoil a lot of it for you.)

Night at the Museum 2 is suitable for children but the puzzling is easier than LEGO: Star Wars, while the platforming can be much more fiddly. A bigger issue is the game's length. The back of the box claims there are 14 levels but that's rather a stretch and counts every loading screen as the start of a new area. There are really only 9 levels, and a couple of those aren't much more than five minutes long. In fact, it's possible to complete the game 100% without breaking a sweat in under four and a half hours. That includes searching every obvious nook and cranny for collectibles on the first run through and then doing at least a third of the game a second time in order to hoover up a few remaining bits and bobs.

All in all, Night at the Museum doesn't do anything particularly successfully and has very little longevity. It's unlikely to keep the kids busy for more than a long afternoon. Nonetheless, it's likable enough and works well with jOG, so it's maybe worth a rental if you aren't planning on seeing the film any time soon and want some mindless distraction while doing a bit of light exercise.

Conclusion: At least it doesn't have gimmicky motion controls tacked on...

Graphics: Would be slightly underwhelming on the PS2.

Length: Very short.

Rating: 2/5.


Burn After Reading (DVD)

Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and an absolutely vast amount of swearing.

Rated: 15.

Story: Er... I suppose there was a story somewhere. Let me think... Oh, yeah... A group of people in Washington DC go through mid-life crises over their work, appearance, marriages and/or sex lives. Through a series of affairs and a misplaced CIA disk, their lives become intertwined. Everything gets seriously out of hand.

Comments: At what point does open-ended become inconclusive? When does multi-stranded simply cross-over into disjointed? Where is the line between art and chaos?

Call me a scientist, but I like a story to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Usually in that order. A story should make its way cleverly and amusingly from somewhere to somewhere else with a couple of unexpected turns in between.

There are other people who think a story should be all about the characters - going nowhere is fine as long as that is consistent with the relationships and inner turmoil being portrayed. The point can be that there is no point. As one of the characters in Burn After Reading so aptly puts it near the end, 'What have we learnt? Not to do this again.'

Yep, if you like a good plot, then this isn't a film for you. Burn After Reading is quite simply a story about some crazy people, some of whom have guns. Brad Pitt's character is easily the most likable because he is an idiot, not just being one. There's less story than in No Country for Old Men, and what is there is held together by a huge coincidence.

That said, the bizarreness of it all does produce some genuinely funny moments and the star cast does a good job. The film is always interesting to watch if seldom out-and-out entertaining. Maybe it's open-ended, multi-stranded art.

Or maybe not...

Conclusion: One of those films that was clearly more fun to make than it is to watch.

Explosions: None.
Body count: Higher than you might expect.
Best bit: Brad Pitt's hair.
Suitable for viewing with your gran, kids or church youth group?: I wouldn't advise it.
Lesson: Impending middle age leads to madness (and incoherent movies).

Rating: 3/5.


Star Trek (2009)

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and a whole lot of other talented people.

Rated: 12A. There isn't much tension and there are only a few 'scary' bits, so children who are a little younger could probably cope. Everything moves so fast, though, they'll spend the whole time asking you what's going on.

Story: Someone remembers that, once upon a time, Star Trek was fresh and exciting. They try to recapture that by going back to the original crew and adding lots of special effects, action, humour, slick editing and energy.

Everyone else remembers the Star Wars prequels and the new Indiana Jones and feels slightly nervous...

Comments: I used to enjoy Star Trek. I remember avidly watching re-runs of the original series as a kid and then again as a teenager. Some of the films were great. The announcement of The Next Generation was big news.

When TNG arrived, however, it all felt rather bland. I never liked any of the characters much and the Enterprise always looked as if it had been recently hoovered. The spin-offs weren't anywhere near as interesting as Babylon 5 and the movies became less essential with every passing Roman numeral. The franchise slowly sank to a point where I didn't care anymore.

The announcement of a new film set in the early days of Kirk and Spock only managed to raise a small sigh of despair. There were so many ways the project could go wrong, it wasn't even worth thinking about...

Bearing all this in mind, quite how the movie turned out to be so unbelievably fantastic is something of a mystery. I suspect Voodoo.

From the opening moments, everything thunders along with pace and spectacle. Somehow the movie manages to trade on every fond memory of the Kirk era while wiping away recollections of countless tiresome TNG 'human interest' episodes. It's a cracking sci-fi adventure full of recognisable characters that are at once comfortably familiar and pleasantly unpredictable.

The casting is a work of genius. All the main characters are portrayed in a manner that's true to the original but the prequel setting means their roles and relationships aren't fully formed, allowing plenty of room for development. Zachary Quinto is superb as Spock and Chris Pine captures the cavalier attitude of Kirk in the days before he needed a corset.

There are plenty of references to the original TV series but a deep knowledge of Trek lore isn't required to appreciate them (although anyone who has never heard of Captain Kirk before might struggle to keep up in places). The only real issue with the film is the slightly ropey plot which almost falls apart two-thirds of the way through thanks to ten minutes which combine stupendous coincidence, dodgy physics and the magical use of a transporter, stretching plausibility further than even the lightning pace can entirely paper over.

Then again, maybe that's just another homage to the source material...

If you've ever enjoyed Star Trek, go and see this.

Conclusion: I didn't actually applaud when the film ended but if someone else had started, I'd have totally joined in...

Explosions: Lots.
Nostalgia: Plenty.
Memorable moments and lines: Loads.
Dubious Scottish accents: None. (Surprisingly.)
People who won't like this movie: Big fans of Patrick Stewart, dubious beards, Holodecks and freshly vacuumed carpet.

Rating: 5/5.


Transporter 3 (DVD)

Starring: Jason Statham and Natalya Rudakova's freckles.

Rated: 15.

Story: Bad guys have kidnapped the daughter of a Ukrainian government minister in an effort to force him to sign contracts with an evil corporation that wants somewhere to dump its bubbling, green toxic waste. For some reason, they decide it's necessary to drag Frank Martin (Statham) out of retirement to ferry the girl about. Since he's no longer in the business of transporting dubious goods, they force him to cooperate by giving him an explosive bracelet set to detonate if he goes more than 75 feet from his car.

(Obviously, you're not so much going to have to suspend your disbelief for this one, as staple it to the ceiling...)

Comments: I guess alarm bells should have started ringing in my head about dodgy sequels involving Jason Statham as soon as I saw the trailer on the DVD for Crank 2. I mean, what? That's like a sequel to Titanic. It's simply daft.

Nevertheless, I was quite looking forward to Transporter 3. The first installment in the Transporter franchise is an all right action flick and the second is a completely mental succession of fights and stunts that roars along without taking itself too seriously. Sadly, number 3 is an uncomfortable mix of elements from both of them. The plot is as stUpid as number 2 but everything plods along at the pace of number 1. The laws of physics are regularly broken but to no great spectacle. Nothing makes sense. It's all something of a mess.

Even the whole premise of the series has changed. Frank has gone from villain to hero, and his three rules for pulling off a successful job are out the window. They're now enforced about as regularly as the Prime Directive, seemingly only there for other people to remind him he's breaking them. Transporter 4 probably won't even have a car in it.

Ho hum.

The movie isn't a complete disaster, since there are a few laughs and a couple of interesting stunt sequences. If you like action films, you'll find it enjoyable enough while lying on the sofa with a beer after a hard day with the kids. It just lacks both plausibility and style, making it for genre fans only.

Conclusion: It's hard to create an action film which is coherent, meaningful and spectacular. Making one which is none of these things seems pretty easy, though...

Explosions: Fewer than the number of conversations the main characters have about what they would like for lunch.
Frequency of Jason Statham finding a reason to take his shirt off: High.
Ludicrous moments: Several.
Number of handguns held by the two primary characters between them in the entire film: Zero.
Number of handguns held by the two primary characters between them in the main promotional image: Four.
Chances of Crank 2 being any good: Slim.

Rating: 3/5.


Disaster: Day of Crisis (Wii)

Rated: 16+ (which, to be honest, is extremely harsh for some gore-free shooting and a bit of mild swearing).

Story: You are Raymond Bryce, the only guy on the planet with worse luck than Jack Bauer. While working for a crisis management team in a West Coast US city, Ray discovers that the sister of an old friend has been kidnapped and he sets out to rescue her. His day starts with terrorists, then moves on to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, a grizzly bear and the threat of nuclear detonation. About the only thing not after him is a plague of locusts.

Gameplay: This is an odd one. It's a third-person adventure game where you wander round relatively confined areas searching for survivors to rescue and trying to find the way forward. You can jump and pull yourself up onto ledges but it's hardly Tomb Raider. Supplies, such as ammo and first aid kits, are hidden in crates you have to smash.

You don't get to shoot while exploring, though. When the bad guys show up, the action switches to a first-person lightgun style affair, where you point and fire with the wiimote. You can duck into cover but the game controls when you move forward. Good marksmanship earns points which can be used to buy new guns, upgrade existing ones and access shooting ranges.

There are also driving sections where you tilt the wiimote to steer as you avoid all manner of obstacles while attempting to outrun whichever cataclysmic disaster Ray is currently fleeing from.

As if this wasn't enough variety, there are also a number of wiimote-waggling minigames that come into play when aiding survivors. These include putting out fires, bandaging wounds and performing CPR. Successful rescues earn points that can be spent between stages to enhance Ray's abilities.

Completed stages can be replayed to gain more points, rescue any missed survivors and attempt a bonus challenge where hidden placards have to be collected.

Save System: The game can be saved properly after each stage but quitting to the main menu allows the last checkpoint reached to be saved as well. This is useful because some stages are half an hour long but it could be a problem if multiple people are working through the game at the same time - there only seems to be one mid-level save slot.

Comments: Imagine a straight-to-DVD action movie with added volcanoes and tidal waves and you'll have a pretty good idea of the plot of Disaster: Day of Crisis. The first sections are peppered with melodramatic cutscenes full of clunky dialogue that are particularly tedious if you've watched the video montage before the title screen, since this gives away most of the plot. Before long, however, everything becomes so cheesy and implausible, it's hilarious.

As far as the actual game is concerned, almost every aspect, from the graphics to the design, seems ripped from stuff that came out nearly ten years ago. It's SOS, Time Crisis and Stuntman all jumbled together with a distinct lack of polish. If it was on PS3 or 360 it would be laughable.

And yet, somehow, it works.

The developers clearly used the time they could have spent improving the script thinking up genuinely interesting stuff to do with the unique features of the Wii instead. Locating and saving the survivors is great fun, with the waggling actually adding to the experience for a change. Radio messages come in over the wiimote speaker, the shooting is entertaining and having to shake the controllers frantically to escape a tsunami adds to the immersion. The only issue is with the driving sections - the tilt control is good but the checkpoints are too far apart, leading to some frustration.

None of the gameplay elements on their own is done well enough to compete with other games but the mix produces something charming and original. Compared with so many other Wii games, Disaster is a delight.

Conclusion: Ugly, daft and archaic but still the best fun I've had on Wii in ages. Definitely worth a rental if you like adventure games and 24. (Works even better with jOG.)

Graphics: Reminiscent of an early PS2 game, complete with jagged edges, dodgy camera and dreadful textures. The moments when Ray has to munch on hamburgers the size of his own head are a particular highlight. It's a game you definitely have to love for its personality.

Length: Medium, provided you take the time to rescue all the hostages and investigate some of the extras.

Rating: 4/5.