Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Director : Shawn Levy
Screenplay : Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Ben Stiller (Larry Daley), Amy Adams (Amelia Earhart), Owen Wilson (Jedediah Smith), Hank Azaria (Kahmunrah / The Thinker / Abe Lincoln), Robin Williams (Teddy Roosevelt), Christopher Guest (Ivan the Terrible), Alain Chabat (Napoleon Bonaparte), Steve Coogan (Octavius), Ricky Gervais (Dr. McPhee), Bill Hader (General George Armstrong Custer), Jon Bernthal (Al Capone), Patrick Gallagher (Attila the Hun), Jake Cherry (Nicky Daley), Rami Malek (Ahkmenrah), Mizuo Peck (Sacajawea)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is more or less exactly what you would expect from a sequel to the surprise hit three years ago that found Ben Stiller’s nebbish night-watchman trapped in a museum in which all the exhibits magically come to life. It was an amusing concept then and still holds some charm now, although it also lends itself to bombastic overkill, which sequels are naturally inclined toward anyway. Having already turned Manhattan’s Natural History Museum into a hectic wonderland of digital mayhem, returning director Shawn Levy (who seems to specialize in inoffensive mediocrity) and screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon set their sights on Washington, D.C.’s fabled Smithsonian Institute, although the majority of the action takes place in the basement.
When the film opens, Stiller’s Larry Daley has hung up his flashlight for a lucrative career inventing and selling gadgets on home shopping channels. Now quite rich and respectable, he returns to his former place of employment to find that his come-to-life-at-night friends are being boxed up in preparation for their replacement by digital holographs. Their storage place of destination is the National Archives beneath the Smithsonian, and once they arrive along with their magical Egyptian tablet, the Smithsonian comes to life. This is bad news, however, because it resurrects Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), a lisping and extremely vengeful Egyptian pharaoh who is determined to raise an army from the Underworld and assert himself as supreme ruler. To assist him he enlists the aid of a trio of historical baddies: Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal).
Aligned against Kahmunrah are Larry and the returning museum pieces from the first movie, including the miniature cowboy Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) and miniature Roman warrior Octavius (Steve Coogan), as well as Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), who is now an armless bust that is extremely envious of his Manhattan counterpart’s full-bodied existence. New this time around are a giant octopus, the statue from the Lincoln Memorial (voiced by Azaria), and General George Armstrong Custer, who is played by SNL’s Bill Hader as a hilariously self-absorbed idiot. The most important new character is Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), who injects wonderfully anachronistic slang and feisty feminine wiles into a movie that is desperately in need of the “moxy” she’s constantly chiding Larry for lacking. As she did in Enchanted (2007), Adams takes what could have been a silly one-note role and turns it into something surprisingly sweet, funny, and earnest. Her Amelia Earhart is a fast-talking dame way ahead of her time, but she brings a lightness of touch to the comedy and even evokes a sense of poignancy by manipulating our knowledge that her zest for life will ultimately be constricted by her returning to wax form in the light of dawn.
There is much sound and thunder throughout the movie as Kahmunrah forces Larry to decipher the hieroglyphics on the tablet by threatening to drown Jedediah in an hourglass. There are roller-coaster-inspired moments involving the Wright Brothers’ original concept plane and a near launch of the Apollo 13 rocket (which allows for a great cameo by Clint Howard). The best new inspiration comes courtesy of the Smithsonian art museum, which allows the filmmakers to throw famous art works into the mix of animated wax sculptures. This falls flat with the infinitely uninspired notion that Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker (which should be in the Musée Rodin in Paris, but no matter) is actually a muscle-headed dimwit, but it also provides a few wonderful moments when Larry and Amelia find themselves inside the post-war jubilation captured in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s 1945 photograph “Times Square Kiss” (stay for a bit of the credits because this also acts as set-up for the film’s one truly inspired joke). Otherwise, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian hurries through its expanded premise with moderate success, delivering enough laughs to make it fly by, but not enough to make it worth a return visit.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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