Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Cast:
Ben Stiller as Larry Daley
Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart
Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith
Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah / The Thinker / Abe Lincoln
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 George Armstrong Custer
Jon Bernthal as Al Capone
Patrick Gallagher as Attila the Hun
Jake Cherry as Nicky Daley
Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah
Mizuo Peck as Sacajawea
Jay Baruchel as Sailor Joey Motorola
Mindy Kaling as Docent
Keith Powell as Tuskegee Airman #1
Craig Robinson as Tuskegee Airman #2
Clint Howard as Air and Space Mission Control Tech #1
Matty Finochio as Air and Space Mission Control Tech #2
George Foreman as Himself
Brad Garrett as Easter Island Head (voice)
Eugene Levy as Albert Einstein (voice)

Directed by Shawn Levy

Summary:
While not necessarily as funny as the first movie, there are enough clever ideas in the historical figures and museum exhibits brought to life that the sequel is able to eventually justify its existence.

Story:
Years after leaving his job as night guard at the Museum of Natural History, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is contacted by his living museum exhibit pals, who have been transferred to the National Archives in Washington D.C. for storage. Apparently, the troublesome Capuchin monkey has stolen the Egyptian tablet that brings the exhibits at the Smithsonian to life, including the evil Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who is planning to use it to take over the world. With the help of his friends, including new acquaintances Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and General Custer (Bill Hader), Larry must put a stop to the Pharaoh’s plans.

Analysis:
“Night at the Museum” probably wasn’t one of Ben Stiller’s better movies, but it’s hard not to admire the entertainment value in its high concept premise of bringing museum exhibits of well-known historical figures to life and watching Stiller interact with them. Anyone going into its sequel expecting more of the same probably won’t be entirely disappointed, because along with expected callbacks from the first movie, there’s enough new characters and gags to keep it from merely being a repeat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better though.

The first thing that might be hard to get past is the ridiculous plot device used to change locations, which is essentially that the director of the Museum of Natural History–Ricky Gervais playing it much snarkier than he did in the first movie–has decided to replace all the exhibits with hi-tech hologram displays, so they’ve been packed up and sent to Washington, D.C. Stiller’s Larry Daley is no longer a night guard, but he’s called back into action when he gets a call from Jebediah (Owen Wilson) that they need his help. While the location may have changed, the premise is generally the same, with a mystical Egyptian totem bringing museum exhibits to life, this time at the much larger Smithsonian and the National Archives beneath it. Going in knowing exactly what to expect doesn’t help to make it very exciting when things start to come to life, and it takes a lot longer for this sequel to get going, because there’s so much set-up involved in getting Larry and his friends down to D.C.

Like this weekend’s other big movie “Terminator Salvation,” the movie relies on a star who ends up being the movie’s weakest link, Stiller not being fully on his game, even compared to the last movie. Maybe it’s because he’s once again stuck playing the hapless straightman to the exhibits and animals, his only job being to react to them, rather than being able to bring his own sense of humor to the game. Likewise, Hank Azaria plays the main baddie in such a ridiculous manner, complete with an effeminate lisp that it’s almost unbearable to watch him at times, even if it’s not quite as painful as Mike Myers “The Love Guru” (close though).

Carla Gugino is nowhere to be found, but she’s suitably replaced as the love interest by Amy Adams’ Amelia Earhart, a sassy adventure-loving woman who retains the slang of the era. It’s a fun character and the most prominent one to the story next to Stiller and Azaria. Adams really brings the most to the movie as she forces Stiller to up his game, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she spends the entire film wearing skin-tight aviator pants that will guarantee a lot of happy fathers if they’re dragged to see this over the holiday weekend. Also added to the mix is Bill Hader as General Custer, a daffy and cowardly version of the war hero whose gags seem to be veer towards Steve Martin “Pink Panther” territory.

Even though so much of the sequel is about reusing some of the same gags that worked so well in the first movie, a lot of the original characters end up having to take a back seat to the new ones. The skeletal dinosaur Rex is only really seen at the very beginning and the end, replaced this time by a giant octopus and other masterfully-created CG creatures. Robin Williams’ horse-riding Teddy Roosevelt also stays behind, though they find a way to allow Williams to show up for a brief scene where he’s allowed to do his usual schpiel. As far as the rest of the returning characters, Steve Coogan’s Octavius gets more laughs than Owen Wilson’s Jedediah, as the tiny “frenemies” from the previous movie spend much of the movie apart, Coogan having some genuinely funny moments whenever he’s on screen, compared to Wilson, who spends a lot of the time caught in an hour glass half-buried in sand.

Director Shawn Levy and his team do a great job with the CG FX and the overall visuals of the film, particularly in the action sequences, and they introduce a number of highly clever ideas to the mix, particularly when we see famous paintings and sculptures brought to life, and taking the characters into the famous V-day photo “The Kiss.” Otherwise, Rodin’s muscle-headed statue The Thinker isn’t nearly as entertaining as the Easter Island head, and the Albert Einstein bobbleheads (voiced by Eugene Levy) don’t do very much for the story. There are plenty of other fun surprises, many of which have sadly started showing up in the latest commercials maybe because Fox knows they’re the best things going for the sequel.

The movie really gears up the excitement factor when the heroes venture over to the Air and Space Museum, and we get a scene of all the vintage airplanes and spaceships brought to life, and when the historical figures all come together in a final battle, it’s much easier to understand why this premise is such strong fodder for entertainment. The last half hour does a good job saving what was looking like a complete dud up until that point.

The Bottom Line:
It takes a long time for this sequel to get going and it never quite finds its comic footing, but kids will probably love it–they might even learn a thing or two–and parents should find a couple things to keep them from getting completely bored. Ultimately, it’s Amy Adams and Shawn Levy’s FX team who save the day, and one expects the sequel will drive as much traffic to the Smithsonian as its predecessor did to the Museum of Natural History.

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