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Lunch » Tags » Movies » Reviews » Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian » User review

Great technical wizardry, but not much of a story

  • Dec 28, 2009
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It's hard for me to grasp that the actors/comics who play Reno Sheriff's Department members Dangle & Junior are the same guys who wrote the 2 NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM movies. It's like telling me that Lenny Bruce wrote BAMBI. RENO is foul-mouthed, fast-paced, improv-heavy and most certainly not kid friendly. The MUSEUM movies are noisy but never untidy, by-the-numbers and family friendly.

But that strangeness aside, it's also amazing to me that so much technical wizardry, hard work & exciting casting can produce so little in the way of actual entertainment. I remember the first film's premise sounded SO promising: a museum where at night everything comes to life. WOW! And there were many visual treats, such as the dinosaur skeleton trying to drink from the water fountain. But the story just amounted to nothing, and the human actors tried SO hard to be charming and witty (probably while acting in a room containing nothing but a green-screen), and mostly failed miserably. It was a big disappointment.

I was not surprised to see the announcement of a sequel, but I was a bit saddened as well. Unless the approach to the movie were to differ radically, it would surely just be another big, loud waste of money. Yet with all these reservations in the back of my mind, I still went to the movie on a slow night where I was itching to get out of the house. And for the most part, the things that worked well in the first film were even better here. And sadly, the things that didn't work before were almost painfully worse.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN reintroduces us to Ben Stiller, the hapless night watchman from the first film. He's now a successful entrepreneur and infomercial spokesperson...but he's lost touch with the "guys" at the museum where he once worked. He finds out that most of them are being put into storage at the Smithsonian, and this will also leave the ancient Egyptian stone that raised all these creatures in the first place in the hands of an evil Egyptian pharaoh. So feeling guilty, Stiller goes to Washington...intent on breaking into the Smithsonian and stopping the carnage.

All of this is an excuse, of course, for many incongruous historical figures, creatures and artifacts to be brought to life, interact & fight, and for all to be set right with the world. And as in the prior movie, the individual little vignettes are frequently delightful. The vision of the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum coming to life with pilots, astronauts, etc...all intent on restarting their flying machines, is delightfully executed. A gathering of Albert Einstein bobbleheads come to life...again, a neat idea convincingly executed. I REALLY enjoyed all the famous artwork that comes to life, but remains confined its frames. It's like the artwork on the walls of Hogwarts in the HARRY POTTER movies, but we recognize the famous paintings, so it's especially fun to see them behave. Rodin's The Thinker comes to life...but he mostly just thinks and never actually comes up with anything to say...I found this to be a rare moment of true wit.

Yet all these elements never coalesce into a story we care about. The Egyptian Pharoah (Hank Azaria) comes to life, and begins to assemble a hodge-podge of historical bad guys to help him, such a Darth Vadar, Al Capone (seen only in black & white, because that's what his cut-out figure was) and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest). His "evil machinations" don't feel the least bit threatening. The entire tone of the movie lets you know almost from the first moment that nothing truly bad will happen to any character we care about...so we don't really for a second think any one is in danger. This has the effect of making all the effort and skill feel like sound and fury signifying nothing.

And again, many of the performances are bad. Robin Williams does his squinty-eyed "thing" again as Teddy Roosevelt, and he's unbearably cloying. Luke Wilson is 100% not funny for even the barest millisecond as a diminutive cowboy, and sadly, the wonderful Steve Coogan as the equally small emperor Octavius is nearly as ineffectual. And he has a scene in which he rides a poorly rendered CGI squirrel. Christopher Guest finds nothing to amuse in his Ivan the Terrible. Jonah Hill shows up in one scene as a security guard, and he and Stiller have a seriously tone-deaf scene in which they both behave like characters a 2nd grader might write. Speaking of star Ben Stiller, he looks bored to be in the film. Again, he probably spent a huge chunk of it reacting and talking to a big green screen...but actors can do that convincingly...he just didn't seem to care enough to try. Stiller has looked bored in a lot of his movies lately...it's a shame to see that.

Let me try to wrap up on a more positive note. Hank Azaria works very hard to be amusing as the evil Pharoah, putting on a fey, Boris Karloff impersonation that is occasionally quite amusing. He's forced to simply stand around and say things in that voice just a bit too much, but that is not his fault, but the script's. Azaria is one of those actors who always makes interesting choices. Best of all is Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. I have yet to see Adams give a poor performance...in fact, her work is so very winning and charming (see JUNEBUG, DOUBT, SUNSHINE CLEANING, ENCHANTED, MISS PETTIGREW...,etc.). Her Earhart character in a better movie could have been a classic. As it is, she's like a little Katherine Hepburn a la BRINGING UP BABY...game to try anything and probably smarter than anyone around her.

In summary, the movie has many things to admire and many things to be dismayed at. When I put it all together, the film comes out to 3 stars, but I put it barely into my "not recommended" list. Having said that, if you DO see it, enjoy the CGI successes and Amy Adams. You may find your NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM was not a total waste.

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review by . November 21, 2009
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I had the unique pleasure of watching this movie in the Smithsonian's IMAX theater. Perhaps it was the surroundings, but I found myself enjoying the movie quite a bit. It's got a great mix of action, romance, and comedy for both kids and adults. It's the type of movie that I hope Hollywood makes more of - decent movies that the whole family can enjoy without any sexual undertones.    Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian builds upon the last movie, Night at the Museum, …
review by . August 16, 2009
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Ranked #146
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Ben Stiller returns to Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian as Larry Daley, the unfortunate night watchman who continues to encounter living and breathing museum exhibits. The film brings the Smithsonian to life, the world's largest museum complex with more than 136 million items in its collections, ranging from the plane Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) flew on her non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic to Dorothy's ruby slippers and Fonzie's jacket from Happy Days.

As caretaker of the Smithsonian, Larry faces conflict when an evil Pharaoh comes to life with the reestablishing of a tablet as a magical force in the museum, bringing the old exhibits (such as Theodore Roosevelt and Dexter) and new exhibits (like General Custer and Al Capone) back to life. Larry enlists the help of Amelia Earheart, who he later develops a romantic interest in, and together they try to put the museum back in order.

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