Review of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

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This family comedy/adventure flick is the sequel to Night at the Museum (2006) with Ben Stiller reprising his role as security-guard-turned-inventor Larry Daley. In the second film the action shifts from the Museum of Natural History to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The idea remains that historical figures come alive, and this time some artworks do as well. Amy Adams plays Amelia Earhart, who becomes Larry's love interest. Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon and Al Capone show up, along with a fictional Egyptian pharaoh (Hank Azaria).
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Movie Review: "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"

-- Rating: PG (some language and mild action)
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: May 22, 2009
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Genre: Comedy, Action, Adventure

"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" is the more ambitious and star-studded sequel to the popular 2006 movie "Night at the Museum." Former museum security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) returns as a widely successful inventor, CEO, and television salesman-one who is unhappy with his newfound lifestyle-despite his increased wealth. To soothe his dissatisfaction with his workaholic life, Larry makes nighttime visits to his pals at the museum, including the waxed statue of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), miniature cowboy Jebediah (Owen Wilson), and toy Roman soldier Octavius (Steve Coogan). As he reminisces during these trips, he just can't let go of the notion that he made a mistake in leaving his security guard post.

He soon learns that there are bigger problems. The older exhibit pieces have been declared obsolete in favor of newer and flashier holographic displays. As such, they are slated to be boxed up and shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. to be stored in the institution's massive and cavernous archives. Goodbyes are said, and Larry resigns himself to never seeing his inanimate friends again.

As they try to settle in to their new digs, the friends are subjected to the bullying of a pharaoh (Hank Azaria) in need of a special tablet. Larry comes to the aid of his buddies and a cameo-filled romp with other exhibit pieces ensues. His main ally is none other than Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). Other historical figures that spring to life include the scheming Napoleon (Alain Chabat), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), General Custer (Bill Hader), and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest). As fun as it is to see all of these recognizable faces, it is also a partial detriment to the film.

There are countless recognizable people and voices throughout the film, but the action is so blazing that there is barely enough time for the viewer to register what was seen. Larry and company literally fly through scenes, rushing from one exhibit to another in the quest to stop the pharaoh and his minions. Script writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon appear to have difficulty in successfully blending character moments with action. The characters will stop for a moment to chat and joke, of course. But the story becomes lost in the humor, and it feels very out of place. Stopping to pal around with a security guard (Jonah Hill) and making moves on the wax figure Earhart don't mesh well with the driving plot. The viewer is then left wondering what the point is, before being swept off again at breakneck speed.

Children will not be affected by these pacing issues, because they will laugh at the silly action and jokes-after all, the film will resonate with children because of the belief that many little ones have about their toys coming to life or about the eyes in pictures moving. They are sure to love the scene involving monkeys. After all, who doesn't like monkeys? To adults, the monkeys will seem thrown in specifically for the reason that someone in the writer's room asked that question. It feels like a funny moment from an old "Looney Tunes" short.

Actors' performances vary in their quality and execution. Stiller is someone that the audience either loves or hates, and as such he is often best in comedic scenes with high-caliber actors. This was true in "Meet the Fockers" and "Tropic Thunder," and it also applies to this film. There's the feeling that the other returning cast members are just there for the paycheck. There's no real evolution of the characters. Owen Wilson, for example, simply lacks the bravado his cowboy had in the first film. The new additions more than make up for this small issue, each adding their own twists to the characters.

The production value is fairly high with moments that make you appreciate how far Hollywood has come. The pictures are sharp, giving the audience a chance to see small details such as the clothing texture of the high-quality costumes. All of the props look believably real, including the tyrannosaurus. However, there are some green-screen moments that just don't have the quality that they should. Ameila and Larry on the airplane just looked too fake, while it should have been a highlight of the film. However, the really cool Lincoln Memorial statue made up for this.

While it's not to the caliber of some of the more intellectual and funny family films-the gold standard for many will always be "The Brave Little Toaster" or "Toy Story"-this sequel is an exciting and harmless way to enjoy some time together. There's no foul language, blood, sex, or extreme violence to worry about. Just don't think too much about it, and you might also learn something about history along the way.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars