When the ‘YouTube Originals’ logo popped up in the opening credits for Antonio Ruizpalacios’s Museum, I was worried. Never exactly known for producing content of particular artistic merit or really respecting anything other than The Algorithm, a YT-financed film doesn’t inspire hope. Thankfully, Museum is about as far from an ‘expected’ YouTube film as it could possibly be, and though it is definitely flawed and muddled, it’s still an entertaining heist thriller/family drama/buddy comedy hybrid.
Based on an incredible true story, Museum is set in 1985 Mexico as a daring silent raid on the national anthropology museum nabs 140 priceless Mayan antiques and rocks the country. As it turns out, the perpetrators were not a highly trained international gang of thieves, but a couple of bored vet students living with their parents – Juan (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris). Motivated by little more than listlessness and the upper middle class curse of feeling that your special life isn’t quite special enough, Museum follows them as they execute the heist and attempt to fence their loot.
This heist is a whole lot of fun. It’s got all the joys of any well-planned, slickly executed movie heist, with a couple of stylistic tricks all its own. Juan and Wilson’s improvised robbery tools are ingenious, and they prove to be really rather adept thieves, avoiding the temptation of overegging the drama so early in the story. Where things fall apart is when the pair try and sell the artefacts on, which proves more than tricky – even a rather sleazy international art dealer (played in a smile-raising cameo by Simon Russell Beale) refuses to take the risk.
As the plan crumbles around our ostensible heroes’ ears, so too does Ruizpalacios lose his grip on the film’s tone. Museum remains engaging throughout, but its mood and styles suddenly start flying all over the map, especially in a bizarre sequence involving a surreal drunken brawl followed by Juan meeting his favourite porn star on a beach. It’s a strange, sour note that arrives just as the film is wrapping up and almost spoils the whole effort. Bernal’s reliably charming performance just about sees Museum through this home stretch and he keeps it highly watchable throughout.