May 28, 2009

Movie Review: Night at the Museum - Battle of the Smithsonian

nightatthemuseum21_largeIn 2006, Ben Stiller took to the big screen as Larry Daley, a down on his luck, divorced father of one with no real prospects. In an effort to right his sinking ship, he takes a job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History. Little does he know exactly what he is getting himself into. At night all of the exhibits come to life, caused by a mystical Egyptian tablet. This becomes the centerpiece of the effects and helps Stiller's Daley along his path of redemption. We now return to Larry Daley's world, three years later, and find that he is no longer at the museum and has new impediments in his life, although he does not see this as clearly as he did in the earlier film.

nightatthemuseum26As Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian begins, we catch up with Larry, whose inventor career has taken off. We find Larry hawking his latest gadget infomercial style. Following his pitch, he heads off to the Museum to visit with his old friends as night draws near. However, upon his arrival, he discovers something disturbing, a large portion of the exhibits are being packed up for storage, making way for new technological exhibits. Larry is not happy, and despite constant business interruptions from his Blackberry, vows to do something about it.

Larry's efforts are for naught and the exhibits, including such characters as Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), and Dexter the monkey to the national archives at the Smithsonian. Larry then goes about his life, saddened, but seemingly content to move forward with his business. He then receives a frantic call from Jedediah at the Smithsonian. So, off Larry goes to Washington to find out what is going on.

nightatthemuseum21What Larry finds are a host of newly awakened characters, some that are not so friendly, and one that is intent on reclaiming the mystical tablet that brought them to life in the first place. The two factions go head to head in a battle all over the National Mall, leaving a path of destruction in their wake as we speed towards the inevitable conclusion.

I wanted to like this movie. The first film was a lot of fun, it had charm, character, and just wanted to provide an enjoyable time for all. This time around I get the impression that a bunch of men wearing suits sitting around a conference table decided they knew the best way to make a sequel. I can almost here them saying that everything needs to be "bigger" or "more." So, as writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (who appear as the Wright Brothers) went about writing the film, everything got bigger and there was more of it.

There is a large influx of characters, relegating our original heroes primarily to the sidelines and the resulting story loses much of the heart and light-hearted fun of its predecessor. That is not to say there was nothing to enjoy, it just doesn't induce the same feelings of good will. The sense of wonder that the first had was gone here as they try to compensate with more historical figures.

nightatthemuseum22Ben Stiller's performance does nothing to help matters much. His work here lacks life, for much of the film he looks tired, perhaps even bored. His sleepwalking through the museum does little to give me anything to hang onto. Larry is supposed to be our ticket in, and if he doesn't feel like being there, why should I?

The supporting cast is generally fine as they go through the motions for their roles. Amy Adams is the brightest part of the secondary characters, she is funny, charismatic and throws herself right into the performance. Hank Azaria is a close second as he apes Boris Karloff's performance as Im Ho Tep in The Mummy (1932), what with the accent and lisp. Not to mention Bill Hader, a man who always seems to deliver the goods and has a bright future. However, we also have Owen Wilson's Jedediah who may be even more bored than Stiller and Robin Williams who seems to have squeezed in his work on an off-day or two.

Aside from the performances, the story fails to deliver. It gives us all the necessary pieces, but fails to give us a pleasing picture upon assembly. The first film had consequences for what happened when the exhibits were awake, for the messes they made, and what could happen if caught outside, this film does not bring any of this into play, there is no real peril.

Bottomline. This must go down as a missed opportunity. No, not a complete disappointment, but one that fails to really take off. The finished film strikes me as being hastily put together, despite the three years between films. Perhaps the third will be a rebound. (Yes, I do believe a third is in the offing)

Mildly Recommended.


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