Friday, December 04, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

I don't need to tell you that few sequels make the grade. Night at the Museum 2 is among those failures. In other words, it's no Godfather 2.

Much to my surprise a few years ago, I adored the first Night at the Museum. An ordinary guy is thrust into an extraordinary situation -- yes, where the museum pieces come to life at night -- and discovers his unique talents in the most trying of circumstances. You're pulling for him, and the laughs were plenty. The characters were surprisingly charming, like the small cowboy and the life-sized Teddy Roosevelt. And the Tiki God who talked in small rhymes and liked gum. Every single situation, and every group of characters, worked really well, and the whole movie was funny and filled with warmth.

Flash forward a few years and our night watchman Larry (Ben Stiller) is now an inventor extraordinaire, doing infomercials to sell his little gadgets, things like glow-in-the-dark flashlights, so that you can find one when you need one. That particular scene, though, just seemed sad. At no point in this scene, or even in the entire movie, does Larry seem happy or witty or purposeful. Even when he's working supposedly with the characters he loves.

The old characters we got to know in the first movie have nothing really good to do. Only the new characters come to life. In particular is the Egyptian pharaoh, Kahmunrah, played by Hank Azaria, who is downright, laugh-out-loud funny. Not since La Cage Aux Folles has Azaria been this funny, this time playing an Egyptian with a lisp. Sure, he has knowledge of all kinds of things he shouldn't, but those are the jokes, folks.

And Amy Adams as a rather flirtatious Amelia Earhart lights up the screen whenever she appears. She doesn't really advance the plot, such as it is, but she makes it bearable to watch. And her character brings into the whole mess a dollop of aviation history. It's neat to see the Tuskegee Airmen appear, and fascinating to see all those flying machines, some of which actually work.

There are many criticisms of this movie, most of which circle around the fact that it's just not funny, involving, witty or warm enough. There's another small criticism: that this building and art collection we see are obviously not representative of the Smithsonian. But there are some small moments, particularly when Azaria or Adams are onscreen, that will bring a smile to your lips.

On the whole, thumb's down.


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