Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for mild action and brief language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Christopher Guest, Bill Hader, Jon Bernthal, Alain Chabat, Patrick Gallagher
Small role: Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Mindy Kaling, Craig Robinson, Clint Howard, George Foreman, Shawn Levy, The Jonas Brothers (voices), Eugene Levy (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Ed Helms, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
Review published December 9, 2014
Larry Daley (Stiller, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa), the night watchman from Night at the Museum, returns for a whole lot more of the same, only louder and with more rampant CGI, with a budget to the tune of $150 million. What it doesn't have more of is inspiration, as director Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen), working from a script from Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (Balls of Fury, Herbie Fully Loaded), is content to just throw everything but the museum's bathroom sink at the screen and watch the live-action performers merely run away from them all.
The film starts with Larry now the CEO of his own company that sells a slew of inventions worthy of their own infomercials, but in his absence, the Natural History museum he once worked for has decided, in the wake of a renovation, to dispense a bunch of his favorite exhibits into storage at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.. When his old exhibit friends continue to come to life and contact him, Larry flies out there to save them from the vicious hands of evil ancient Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah (Azaria, Run Fatboy Run) , who is planning to take over the world with the help of the mystical tablet responsible for the nightly animated state of museum entities.
The film tosses about 200 jokes and visual gags at the screen, and your mileage may vary as to how entertaining you find them. For me, it's probably worth about a handful of light chuckles, with an amiable sense of escapism, but it does border on insulting as to how little effort there is to make a quality film beyond the special effects and all-star cast. The main problem this time out is that there is very little sense of newness for us in the audience, or even a shred of amazement from any of the characters as to the astonishing events.
Unlike the small museum from the first film, the Smithsonian would surely be overrun with people, even in the middle of the night, so there's really no explanation as to why Larry seems to be the only one trying to keep the peace for such a major institution full of priceless art and historical artifacts. I mean, Abe from the Lincoln Memorial comes to life and walks over from his throne in the National Mall to join in the action, and no one notices? I'm all for artistic liberty, but this film seems to have no defined rules whatsoever.
As for the characters, they are one-note stereotypes building on the one or two things we might know about each one of them from a lesson we vaguely recall from elementary school. Too often, a character will introduce him or herself, with the phrase, "At your service", as if they have just been waiting to come to life and bid someone a greeting. Some characters are jut based on nothing historical from a personality standpoint. Amelia Earhart (Adams, Doubt) has a personality based solely on female screwball-comedy heroines given to us from movies of her era (she's plucky, resourceful and inventive). As for Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah, he has the sense to play for nonsense (a British accent with a lisp, of all things), knowing not to sully this film with the semblance of heaviness for fear the entire tone of the film will shatter like the wafer-thin construction that it is.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian fall sunder the category of a family film that is nothing but a series of distractions in place of a genuine story. Once the one or two jokes for each character or object is used, just throw in another zany one to take its place, and keep it going for over 90 minutes. It's all so easily consumable, and then just as easily forgettable. It may delight the kiddos, and be seen as generally innocuous fun by their doting parents, but in terms of cultural and historical significance, my bet is that you won't find a film like this one on display in any museum.
-- Followed by Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
©2014 Vince Leo