Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
This follow-up to the 2006 smash hit Night at the Museum picks up shortly after the events of the first film, with one-time museum security guard Larry Daley now living the life of a famous inventor. One night he decides to pay a visit to his old haunt, the Museum of Natural History, where he discovers that some of his favorite exhibits (and old, not-so-inanimate friends) have been labeled as "out of date" and are being shipped off to storage at the Smithsonian Institute archives. In no time, he gets a distress call from miniature cowboy Jedediah, who informs Larry that a group of history's most notorious evil personalities, including Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte and Al Capone, are hatching a conspiracy. Together with their ringleader, the 3000-year-old Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah, they plan to take over the Smithsonian and, after that, the world. Larry springs quickly into action, teaming up with Amelia Earhart and tries to save his old friends and perhaps the planet from the insidious invaders who've awakened from their slumber.
WHO'S IN IT?
Ben Stiller returns as Larry, playing straight man once again to a legion of historical figures, including new and returning characters. Back from the original are Robin Williams as a spirited Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith, Steve Coogan as the Roman emperor Octavius, Patrick Gallagher as Attila the Hun and Mizuo Peck as Sacajawea. Ricky Gervais again appears briefly at the start and finish as museum curator Dr. McPhee. Welcome additions include a lively Amy Adams as the famed female flyer Earhart and a very funny Bill Hader (TV's Saturday Night Live) as an insecure General Custer. Christopher Guest plays Ivan the Terrible while Alain Chabat has lots of fun as Napoleon. Jon Bernthal's Al Capone, meanwhile, is cleverly shot and isolated in vivid black and white. Best of all by a mile and the real reason to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is Hank Azaria, who plays Kahmunrah with brilliant comic timing and an affected speech pattern that's highly amusing. The multi-talented Azaria (The Simpsons) provides the voices for two new, computer-enhanced characters: a towering Abraham Lincoln and Rodin's sculpture of The Thinker. Jonah Hill also shows up in an early scene as a Smithsonian security guard who confronts Stiller a subplot that goes nowhere.
Although this follow-up suffers from a severe case of "sequelitis," director Shawn Levy knows what makes this formula work for kids. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian deserves props as the rare studio blockbuster intent on actually providing a little education by making these important historical personalities come to such vivid life. Use of photos and paintings from the adjacent museums is the most inventive new wrinkle, serving as a clever interactive device for Stiller to use throughout the flick.
The screenplay (again by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon) rehashes a lot of what was fresh in the first film, and the result feels roboticly recycled. Levy's direction seems rushed at times, as if the filmmakers are afraid anyone with an attention span beyond 30 seconds. Kids will eat this up, but aside from Azaria, there aren't many laughs for Mom, Dad and older siblings.
For pure visual-effects wizardry and wonder, you can't beat the gang's arrival at the Air and Space Museum, where the production actually shot for a week. It's awe-inspiring. Amelia Earhart's encounter there with the African-American Tuskegee Airmen is also a swell touch.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex, but drop the kids off and go shopping instead.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.