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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

ImageFull disclosure:  I never saw the first Night at the Museum, so I cannot compare it to its sequel.  I can only judge the new one on its own merits, which, unfortunately, are lacking. When I saw the preview for the original, it seemed silly.  Neither the premise nor the cast interested me very much.  I had tired of Ben Stiller’s angry little man routine sometime between Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers (yes, I enjoy Meet the Fockers, but for Deniro/Danner and Hoffman/Streisand and not really for Ben Stiller at all).  Robin Williams’ career had taken a seriously tragic turn that showed no sign of reversing (Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, Death to Smoochy?  I won’t go on, but sadly, I could.  Alas, Mork – how did you ever let this happen?)  The only thing that amused me at all was the t-rex skeleton that thought it was an oversized dog.  I imagine that’s the sort of pet that comes in handy when defending a museum… or if you have a really big ball you don’t know what to do with.  It wasn’t enough to convince me to part with ten bucks and two hours of prime yuletide cheer, so I passed.

Then came the preview for the sequel.  The clips were funny and filled with people I like – Look!  There’s Jonah Hill taking a beat down (in Ben Stiller’s best moment in the movie by far, actually) and Hank Azaria doing a funny accent (no one does funny accents better than Hank Azaria) and Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible (just the concept made me giggle), Ricky Gervais (he was in the original, too?  huh.  go figure) and Amy Adams (Amy, Oh Amy - my new girl crush – I will follow you wherever you go and always buy a full priced, non-matinee ticket, I promise)!

Stiller shot

The scale is far grander now, as well.  Two screenwriters (Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon) sit down to write a move about a museum whose exhibits come to life at night.  When the museum in question is the Natural History Museum in Manhattan, there are plenty of options for them to exploit – cavemen and animals and cowboys and Indians.  When the museum in question is the Smithsonian, the largest museum in the world, comprising of 19 different museums under the same umbrella, the options are endless.  Indeed, Garant and Lennon do not waste the opportunity before them, providing us with a movie filled with gags inspired by art, science, history, aeronautics, pop culture and even the museum gift shop.  Sadly, the endless gags, some of which are downright delightful, are not enough to save the movie.  In fact, it seemed the writers were so concerned with jamming their cleverness in, the plot was at most an afterthought.  Clean and compelling, it is not.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has retired from the night watchmen game and created a successful career as an inventor/salesman for the infomercial-watching insomniacs of the world.  On a visit to his old magical stomping ground, he learns that most of the exhibits are being packed up and shipped off to be stored in the National Archives, aka the basement of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  The little monkey who slapped the crap out of Daley in the first film steals the magic-producing Egyptian tablet on his way out and wakes up the Smithsonian upon his arrival.  The monkey, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and all of Daley’s other old plastic by day, carbon life form by night friends are held hostage by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), a dead Egyptian dude who wants to use the tablet to open a Stargate-like gateway to an army of soldiers who will help him rule the world.  Daley rides in to save the day and is joined in his quest by Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), a feisty pilot-lady with a thirst for adventure.  Hijinks ensue.

Group shot

There are only three possible reasons you might want to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian:  1) Hank Azaria, who is evil and hilarious at the same time, 2) Amy Adams, who manages to turn a polished impersonation of a ‘30s screwball comedy heroine into the most real and only emotional performance in the film or 3) your kid just won’t shut up until you take him (and fyi – I saw this with a theater full of kids and they didn’t laugh that much either).   

As is all too freaking common these days, the funniest moments of the film are in the preview (who do I write to about this practice?  PLEASE send me names and addresses).  By the time you see The Thinker showing off his guns, or the Lincoln Memorial Abe statue giving Stiller romance advice, the power of the moment is long gone.  Director Shawn Levy gives us a film whose best bits have been ruined, whose plot is a mess, and whose lead character is that worst of movie-star sins – boring (and has the Jonas brothers playing creepy singing/flying cherub statues – I almost had to close my eyes).  You may want to do what I did with the original and pass.  That is, of course, unless you love Amy Adams as much as I do.


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