NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN
*** (out of 5)
May 22, 2009
Ben Stiller as LARRY DALEY
Amy Adams as AMELIA EARHART
Owen Wilson as JEDEDIAH SMITH
Hank Azaria as KAHMUNRAH
Robin Williams as TEDDY ROOSEVELT
Christopher Guest as IVAN THE TERRIBLE
Alain Chabat as NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
Steve Coogan as OCTAVIUS
Ricky Gervais as DR. MCPHEE
Bill Hader as GENERAL CUSTER
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Shawn Levy
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Back at the tail end of 2006, the family adventure “Night at the Museum” became a surprise runaway hit, much to the chagrin of the bulk of film critics. While many critics dismissed the film as juvenile and full of cheap gags, they neglected to understand the target market was kids and their families.
Well a movie doesn’t gross $250 million in the U.S. alone and not get a sequel. And here it is: “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” With this movie, critics and families alike can expect more of the same.
In this film, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has seen his luck turn. His invention business has taken off, and he is now selling product worldwide, allowing him to quit his fun but not very lucrative job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History. However, when he comes back to visit one night, he discovers that the museum is dismantling many exhibits and shipping them off to the Federal Archives in the Smithsonian for storage.
As Larry tries to use his newfound pull to keep the museum exhibits in New York, he gets a frantic call from Jedididah (Owen Wilson). Apparently, the monkey has stolen the tablet that brings the exhibits to life, and now the evil Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) in the Smithsonian wants to use it to take over the world. Larry travels to Washington, where he sneaks into the Smithsonian as a security guard and tries to steal back the tablet, defeat Kahmunrah and set things right with the magical exhibits.
Like the first “Night at the Museum,” you’ll probably want to skip this movie if you don’t like Ben Stiller. Because while there are plenty of moments of adventure and special effects, much of the film is set up as an excuse for one-on-one comedy with the characters.
Much of the laughs come from Ben Stiller interacting with another comedic actor. We all remember the scene from the trailer with Jonah Hill… well, that’s extended in the film itself and comes off rather funny (if you like Stiller and Hill, that is). And Stiller makes a habit in this film of engaging in witty banter with almost anyone: Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah… Alain Chabat as Napoleon Bonaparte… heck, even Abraham Lincoln (voiced by Hank Azaria).
There are other splendid comedy one-on-one moments, with Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan reprising their roles as Jedidiah and Octavius. And Bill Hader as the overzealous and somewhat clueless General Custer steals plenty of scenes.
It seems that the actors got together for this film just to have some fun, interacting with one another in an overblown SNL sketch with plenty of special effects. As audience members, we have to remember that this is really a kids’ movie. It delivers on the laughs in the family film department.
I will give the filmmakers credit for not simply retreading the first film. Moving the action to the Smithsonian was brilliant, allowing the characters the entire run of the D.C. mall, which serves as the largest museum on the planet. There are some new gags in this film, including characters being able to enter paintings, but it doesn’t faze Stiller’s character at all. And why would it? He spent years watching exhibits come to life, so his relatively laid back attitude to the danger he’s in is understandable.
The story is a bit thin in parts, and the comedic interplay can get old, inconsistent and in the way at times. However, the movie can be a fun excursion for the family. And it doesn’t hurt that the film can excite some interest in your kids to visit these educational institutions. We might just have to plan a trip to D.C. to see the sights.