28 May 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

The director (Shawn Levy), writers (Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon), star (Ben Stiller) and several other actors (Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais) from Night at the Museum (2006) have returned for its sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. No surprise then that what we get is more of the same—"more” being the key word.

That’s not such a bad thing in this case. The concept—a museum’s exhibits come to life each night—is flat-out cool (how much more fun would school field trips be?). That and the sheer likability of the returning cast and some of the new faces are enough to make the movie a pleasant enough way to pass 100 minutes on an uneventful weekend afternoon.

When the movie begins, we learn Larry Daley (Stiller) has left his job as night guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York and launched his own business, shilling products like the glow-in-the-dark flashlight on infomercials with George Foreman. He still visits the museum from time to time, though not as often as he once did. On one such visit he learns from Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) that his friends, including the miniature duo of cowboy Jedidiah (Wilson) and Roman centurion Octavius (Coogan), are about to be shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where they will not be on display but kept in storage.

Courtesy of Larry’s monkey friend Dexter, the tablet of the Egyptian Pharoah Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), which brings the exhibits to life, also makes the trip south. Larry must come to the rescue when the pharoah’s bitter older brother, Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), awakens and aims to use the tablet to bring his armies back into the world.

Larry’s adventures take him into several of the Smithsonian buildings, giving the filmmakers an excuse to throw in a wide range of historical figures.

Kahmunrah recruits Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Al Capone (John Bernthal) and Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat) as his henchmen. General Custer (Bill Hader) tries his best to hatch a plan to lead the good guys to victory. The Tuskegee Airmen prepare to join the battle. A giant octupus attacks both sides. Characters jump into and out of paintings and photographs. Larry goes to The Thinker (voiced by Azaria) for advice. Albert Einstein bobbleheads (voiced by Eugene Levy) from the gift shop drop some knowledge. Even Abraham Lincoln (also voiced by Azaria) leaves his memorial to lend a hand.

Amy Adams, who I’ve never seen hit a false note, shows considerable spunk as Amelia Earhart, providing a stronger love interest for Larry than Carla Gugino’s docent in the first movie. Azaria, with a tunic others repeatedly mistake for a dress, lisp and effeminate manner, is the most consistent when it comes to earning laughs.

As you might expect, special effects rule the day and become a bit tiresome before the credits roll. But there are none in the movie’s best scene—an encounter between Larry and security guard Brandon (Jonah Hill). It’s featured prominently in one of the trailers, so you might know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I won’t spoil the scene by quoting from it.

Even in a movie in which museum exhibits live and breathe, walk and talk, there are inconsistencies that threaten to tear it apart. But the action moves quick enough to keep you from dwelling on it. And let’s face it, if you’re thinking hard, you’ve come to the wrong movie.
Grade: B-

Rated PG for mild action and brief language 105 minutes.)

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