Saturday, July 4, 2009

'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian' -Movie Review

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian has bigger effects and the setting is of a much grander scale than 2006's night at the museum. There's more room to stage chase scenes and many more historical figures/pieces of art available to come alive by moving the film's venue from New York's Museum of National History to the Smithsonian complex in Washington D.C. 20th Century Fox accomplished the near impossible by being allowed to film inside the Smithsonian, yet they failed to take full advantage of the setting.
With so much new to play around with, there should be no reason for Night at the Museum #2 to feel like a rerun of Museum #1, right? Wrong. There's even a lengthy monkey-slapping scene in #2, just like there was in the first movie. Granted, this time there are two monkeys. And twice the monkeys should equal twice the fun, but not so with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian setting does allow a few really quirky, cute interactions with famous works of art. The most engaging of these being our hero Larry escaping with his helper Amelia Earhart into the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of a soldier planting a kiss on a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. That, and a touching scene with the Tuskegee Airmen thanking Amelia Earhart for her groundbreaking accomplishments, do set this one apart from the original. But there's a lot of retreaded material in here that seems just barely reworked for this sequel.

The Story

Amy Adams Night at the Museum 2
Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.'

We catch up with Larry the Night Watchman after he's moved on from his job at the museum to being a rich inventor of semi-useful products. He's pretty much forgotten about his friends at the museum, but when his old buddies are crated up to be shipped to the Smithsonian's warehouse where they'll languish for eternity (or until someone cleans the place and tosses them out), Larry comes to their rescue. The tablet that brought them to life in NY didn't make the trip, but as luck would have it there's another tablet already housed in the Smithsonian's warehouse that has the same magical powers. Unfortunately, the guy who possesses this tablet, Kahmunrah (the older brother of NY's tablet owner), uses its powers for evil.

Kahmunrah's collecting henchmen (i.e. Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, Al Capone) to help him open up a passageway between worlds so he can bring forth his army of bird warriors. The gang from NY are ready to fight, but they're being held prisoner in a shipping container for most of the film. Meanwhile Larry, Amelia Earhart, the monkeys, some Einstein bobble heads, and the Statue of Abraham Lincoln are left to figure out how to stop Kahmunrah and save the day.

The Cast

Ben Stiller slips into his night watchman uniform once again, delivering pretty much the same level of performance as in the first Night at the Museum movie. If you liked him in that, you'll like him in this. If not, well then why watch this sequel? It's more Larry-centric than the first movie so if Stiller's not your cup of tea, pass on Museum 2.

Robin Williams is back but barely used,Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan have expanded roles as the tiny cowboy and Roman soldier tag team, and even Ricky Gervais puts in an appearance again as the curator of NY's museum. And they all do what you expect them to do with the material, though Wilson and Coogan don't seem to be having as much fun this time around.

From just checking out the trailers I thought Hank Azaria was going to annoy me to no end as the Egyptian Kahmunrah, but he's actually more entertaining to watch than Stiller or the rest of the returning Night cast. However, his performance doesn't hold a candle to Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. I don't know if Adams is playing her anything like the real Amelia, but it's a blast to watch Adams get all sassy as the world's most famous female aviator.

Owen Wilson and Hank Azaria
Owen Wilson and Hank Azaria in 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.'

The Bottom Line

There's a batch of other actors thrown into the mix (Christopher Guest, Alain Chabat, Bill Hader, etc) without being given much to do, and way too much time is spent on scenes that are only sort of cute but go absolutely nowhere. Two different scenes have Stiller being threatened if he crosses an imaginary line when one would have been just fine. And we've seen the Easter Island statue or whatever it is make rhymes out of dum dum a couple of times already so enough is enough. With so little time to devote to so many new characters, chopping out a few dum dums wouldn't have harmed the movie whatsoever. I know I'm nitpicking, but I wanted something fresh, something original out of this sequel, and instead it's mostly recycled material.

Kids should still get a kick out of this Museum, but adults may have a harder time finding something worth laughing at this time around.


Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was directed by Shawn Levy and is rated PG for mild action and brief language.


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