Pros:Special effects are great fun, the actors try hard
Cons:The story lacks focus, heart and humor
The Bottom Line: The Bottom Line wishes it had seen Star Trek again instead.
I have now been in a movie theater two times in one week. This may be unprecedented. Either I'm changing my DVD existence or.......it's summer blockbuster season! I love these Big Movies on the Big Screen - popcorn flicks deserve real theater popcorn. So it is that my entire family has now seen Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Honestly, I should have stuck to my depressing indie drama DVDs and my chocolate chip cookies.
I love the original Night at the Museum but didn't go into this one expecting it to top its predecessor. I know the deal with sequels - if it's equal to the original, you've struck gold, if it surpasses, you've witnessed a Hollywood miracle. I suppose I should feel lucky to even be able to say that Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian doesn't 100% stink. Maybe 50%. Okay, 60%.
Most of the characters return from the original film (though sadly not the villains), with Ben Stiller once again leading the cast as Larry Daley. Larry is now something of an inventor - he creates and hawks little gadgets that he used during his tenure at the Museum of Natural History. He does infomercials and from all appearances has become quite a financial success. But he still makes an occasional nocturnal visit to his friends at the museum - and this time he finds most of them boxed up and ready to be shelved in eternal storage at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Well, you know that isn't going to go well at all - our wax pals find quite an adversary awaiting them. Even though he has a meeting with the Wal-Mart people the next day, Larry jets off to DC to help his friends through another night of historical hijinks.
I'll start with the good stuff. I like Ben Stiller in this role. He does so well as the straight man - this character really fits him well. Hank Azaria comes on board as our bad guy and some of his scenes are very funny. His defining characteristic becomes old by halfway through the film, but he does an excellent job with what he's given. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are back as the miniature cowboy and Roman and make the most of their scenes. Amy Adams joins the cast and alternately entertains and annoys. The movie offers a few genuine laughs and plenty of minor chuckles either through dialogue or sight gags.
The special effects are, once again, glorious. We have not only our familiar museum friends coming to life, but additions that make for some great action sequences. They're great fun to watch but still tame enough not to scare most kids.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good this time around. Straight from word one, the premise is weak. Part of the appeal of the original film is Larry's genuine desire to become a more stable parent to his son. We like him because of that earnestness - and making him into a gadget hawker spoils our emotional attachment. I still like him, but I'm just not as invested. Same for the plight of the museum - once we move to the Smithsonian, we lose the "museum" atmosphere. The entire film takes place in the dungeons of long term storage - it's just a basement. It simply isn't special.
Also falling into the "not special" category are the characters chosen to align with Larry in his big fight against the bad guy once at the Smithsonian. The filmmakers just don't choose well - the general that replaces Teddy Roosevelt as right hand man is not a great figure from history, rather quite the opposite. Amy Adams character is supposed to lend some feminine wiles to the proceedings and succeeds to some degree, but mostly she's just annoying, with her time period idiosyncratic speech patterns and attitudes. It's also the same basic "spunky and optimistic" role that Amy Adams plays in every movie she's in. It's just getting old.
The most basic and fundamental failing of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is that is lacks focus. The story is too loose and relies too heavily on our goodwill from the first installment and terrific visuals. Everything else feels rushed and confused. The actors do what they can with the material, but there just isn't any core to sink their teeth into - shadows of the previous movie are not enough. They needed a strong screenplay based on a solid story idea to make this work and sadly have neither. The premise is shallow and the story is muddled. It also has a decided dearth of real laughs. There are some scenes and situations that are genuinely funny, but they are few. Most of the humor comes in small doses of minor chuckles.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is a disappointment on a lot of levels. It lacks the heart of the original, as well as the solid, focused story. The actors all acquit themselves well, but can't rise above the mediocre material. It's a shame, because the whole thing looks great - the action and special effects are fun and terrifically executed. But overall, it isn't funny enough, has no heart and no focus and eventually just gets boring. Misternocket had himself a little nap in the middle, in fact. The kids liked it, but mininocket said it was just okay. Juniornocket liked it quite a bit more but I highly suspect teenage contrariness to be behind that declaration - I saw him yawning. I don't recommend it for adult fans of the original Night at the Museum (or any other adult), but will grudgingly admit that your kids may enjoy it. Just don't expect to enjoy it with them. And please, if you have to see it on the big screen, wait for it to come to the cheap theaters. Save your bigger bucks for Star Trek.
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