May 21, 2009

head.jpg“Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithonian” is exactly the kind of movie cynics lament when they speak of big summer spectacles.  Being cynics, they over-generalize and sometimes incorrectly brand some summer movies as committing the crimes of big-budget, celebrity-stuffed, empty-headed spectacle that’s nothing but an exercise in trying to separate consumers from their wallets as they turn off their brains and watch pretty colors and sounds for a hundred minutes. But Shawn Levy’s unnecessary sequel is guilty as charged.

It’s been two years since the first film and hapless security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has now become successful inventor and entrepreneur with products inspired by his adventures as the Musuem of Natural History.  Larry swings by the museum only to discover that most of the exhibits are getting shipped off to the National Archives at the Smithonian where they will sleep forever since they won’t have the magic tablet that will bring them to life.  But the mischievous monkey manages to steal the tablet and when the exhibits head to DC, they awaken all the exhibits of the Smithonian museums (there are nineteen total but we only see two) and it’s up to Larry to rush back into action and save his friends from the chaos.  From there, Larry teams up with Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) to go on an unexciting and unfunny adventure.

night_at_the_museum_2_battle_of_the_smithsonian_movie_image__ben_stiller_and_jonah_hill.jpgI don’t really mind that the film doesn’t care about logic.  The rules of the tablet and the people it brings to life are nebulous.  How can characters be perplexed by modern technology and then spout off pop culture references like they’re on VH1’s “Best Week Ever”?  Why do sculptures come to life but not vehicles?  Also, why is DC completely empty at night?  There’s no one at the Mall or the Lincoln Memorial or anywhere near where the action takes place.  At one point, the characters crash a plane through a massive plate glass window.  How does anyone outside not notice that (or for that matter, how does no one notice planes around DC in the first place?  I’m pretty sure they keep an eye on that these days)?

But none of that would matter if the film were fun.  If it held your attention and you liked the characters and thought the action was exciting and the jokes were funny, you wouldn’t notice that it has absolutely no rules.  But it’s not exciting and it’s not funny.  The action scenes feel perfunctory where Ben Stiller and Amy Adams are chased by some of the villain’s henchmen and then they run away and then they do it all over again and then there might be a fight scene and none of it has any imagination or energy.  It just happens because it’s been about fifteen minutes since the last one.

Worse, the film offers very few laughs.  I think screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon are very funny individuals but their jokes don’t work here.  There are these endless back-and-forth exchanges that work wonderfully on their show “Reno 911!” where it suits the format, the characters, and the actors understand the comic timing.  Here, it’s excruciating watching Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill go back and forth for five minutes over Hill’s character’s name being pronounced “Brundon” even thought it’s spelled “Brandon”.

night_at_the_museum_2_battle_of_the_smithsonian_movie_image_hank_azaria_and_christopher_guest.jpgFinally, this is a cast that’s poorly utilized.  It’s a cavalcade of actors and only a couple of them are particularly memorable.  Stiller’s Larry Daley should face off against Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon for worst protagonist in a major motion picture.  Thankfully, you have Amy Adams as one of the few people in this film having fun and as cheesy as her performance can be at times, she just gives every corny line a big hug and makes it work.  The film tries to create an unnecessary romantic relationship between Daley and Earhart but it doesn’t work since Daley has all the personality of a kumquat.  Oddly, when the film ends, rather than trying to create a relationship between the two, the film just gives Stiller another woman who is also played by Adams but is in no way related to Earhart.  My theory for why they did this is that the Earhart mannequin that comes to life doesn’t have a vagina.

As I walked out of “Night at the Musuem: Battle of the Smithonian”, I did admire the central premise of the first film of a tablet bringing a museum to life.  Then I thought what fun it would be if they brought the tablet to Madame Tussaud’s House of Horrors and then the protagonist could defeat everyone by turning up the AC and the characters’ skin would melt off their skeletons.

And then I realized I was using my imagination and that clearly has no place in a “Night at the Museum” movie.

Rating —– D

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