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Just Average42.11%
Pretty Crappy: 5.26%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Hey Stiller, Look Out For That Mapplethorpe Exhibit!"
1 stars

When the original “Night at the Museum” premiered in 2006, the head honchos at Fox decided that only certain film critics were good enough to see their fine wares (which at this time, as I recall, also included the likes of “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “Eragon,” “Pathfinder” and “Just My Luck”) in advance in order to review them. Sadly, I wasn’t one of those blessed with the opportunity to see Ben Stiller running through the halls of New York’s Museum of Natural History while its inhabitants ran amok in the joint for some damn reason or another and since the studio didn’t think I was worthy of viewing it at the time, I took their word for it and avoided it when it hit both DVD and cable. However, I apparently now live and work in a more enlightened age because I did receive an invite to see “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” the eagerly-awaited follow-up to that smash hit. Under normal circumstances, I would have finally sat down and watched the original so as to have the lowdown on the intricate plotlines and subtle characterizations that were no doubt contained within. However, I chose not to do that--partly because I frankly didn’t feel like putting in the time or effort, especially on something featuring supporting turns from the likes of Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams, but mostly because it afforded me the relatively rare opportunity to experience the sequel to a hugely popular film without having any preconceived notions of it based on my feelings towards the original.

Of course, I realize that my tortured rationalization for having never seen “Night at the Museum” outside of the occasional clip is most likely of little to no interest to the vast majority of those of you who have been reading up to this point. And yet, as ponderously uninteresting as the above has been up until this point, it is still more fundamentally exciting and interesting than “Battle of the Smithsonian.” This is yet another hard-sell “family” film that tries to bludgeon viewers into submission with loud and overly elaborate special effects set-pieces instead of charming them with a compelling story or any discernible traces of genuine wit and/or whimsy. Obviously, I can’t compare it to the original but if this installment is anything like the first one--and I have a sneaky suspicion that it is--all I can really do at this point is retroactively thank the people at Fox for preventing me from seeing it and idly wish that they could have extended me the same courtesy this time around.

Ben Stiller once again stars as starry-eyed dreamer Larry Daley and as the story begins, he has long left his gig as the night shift guard at the Museum of Natural History to become the incredibly successful inventor and entrepreneur of such do-dads as the Glow-In-The-Dark Flashlight. While returning to the museum for an after-hours visit with his old friends--the museum exhibits that come to life in the evening thanks to some magical tablet--he learns from the officious manager (Ricky Gervais) that the museum is undergoing major renovations and that nearly all of the exhibits are being shipped off to the massive Federal Archives, located beneath the Smithsonian, to make way for new state-of-the-art gizmos. Alas, while taking one final nocturnal jaunt around the premises, a troublemaking capuchin snags the magical tablet and brings it along for the ride. The next night, Larry gets a panicked call from pint-sized cowpoke Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and learns that he and the others are being held captive by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), an ancient Egyptian tyrant who wants the scroll, which used to belong to his younger brother, as part of some vaguely defined plot to take over the world with the aid of a gang that includes the likes of Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Benthal). Somehow, Larry manages to get into the Archives and tries to save both his friends and the day with the aid a new cast of characters that includes Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), George S. Custer (Bill Hader), the Tuskegee Airmen and a bunch of Albert Einstein bobble-heads (all voiced by Eugene Levy).

There is a germ of a good idea in the notion of a fantasy film in which the contents of a museum suddenly come to life and in the right hands, I can imagine it working as something that could tickle the funny bones and the imaginations of audiences both young and old. Alas, returning screenwriters Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon and director Shawn Levy clearly do not possess a single one of those necessary appendages between them, though the end results do betray a surplus of thumbs. Instead of trying to create some kind of coherent story around the central gimmick of the museum coming to life, Garant & Lennon (whose previous collaborations have included such deathless comedies as “Taxi,” “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “Let’s Go to Prison”) have instead created a string of fairly interchangeable scenes that feature some combination of a frustrated/confused Stiller, a cameo from some reasonably well-known person killing time on a day off (beyond those already mentioned, there are also brief appearances, some harder to spot than others, from the likes of Brad Garrett, Mindy Kaling, Craig Armstrong, Steve Coogan, George Foreman, Oscar the Grouch and the Jonas Brothers) and an array of incredibly expensive special effects. Oh sure, there is some kind of moral about how Larry has lost his way and won’t be satisfied in life unless he does something that he loves--defined here as abandoning all of his responsibilities (including his son) in order to screw around with living art exhibits--but in regards to dramatic arcs, the screenwriters seem more interested in transforming General Custer into an amiable goof who finally learns to succeed once he takes the advice of an Indian woman. (Granted, she is Sacajawea, but still. . .)

Again, with the right director at the helm--imagine this in the hands of a master fantasy filmmaker like Joe Dante--even those ingredients might have still resulted in something interesting but Levy brings absolutely nothing of value to the table. Although the plot is frantic enough, he tells it in such a plodding manner that you never get any real sense of tension or danger or even what the hell the our villain hopes to achieve if his plans indeed come to fruition or what might happen if ordinary people somehow stumbled upon what is going on. (Several of the characters escape the confines of the Smithsonian to roam the streets of Washington D.C., visiting the White House at one point, but since that city is famous for closing up shop early, no one is around to notice them.) None of the actors from the original seem to be having much fun and of the newcomers, Amy Adams certainly looks fetching as all get out in her aviatrix gear but her performance as Amelia Earhart is pretty much a nightmare--imagine a very cute girl at a party trying to amuse you by offering up an imitation of Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hudsucker Proxy” that is so bad that it actually overwhelms the cuteness. As for the special effects, they are big and loud and expensive as all get out but they lack any real sense of inspiration to carry them through beyond their initial impressions--if you want to see what this stuff might have looked like in the hands of a gifted filmmaker, check out the incredibly underrated “Looney Toons: Back In Action” (directed, it so happens, by the aforementioned Dante) and watch the delirious sequence in which the characters bounce in and out of the various treasures of the Louvre.

I have no doubt that some of you out there are grumbling that I am taking “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” way too seriously and feel that it does serve a purpose in that it might encourage younger viewers to want to visit museums for themselves and do further research on the featured historical characters. Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing that happening as there are many things that children could learn by following up on the things seen here. They might learn, for example, all of the fascinating facts about the lives of Amelia Earhart, George S. Custer and the Tuskegee Airmen that the film somehow managed to overlook. They might also discover that such notable paintings as “American Gothic” and “Nighthawks at the Diner” are not, in fact, actually on display at the Smithsonian. Hell, they might even cook up story ideas for the perhaps inevitable “Night at the Museum 3” that would put the stuff cooked up here to shame.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17551&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/22/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

12/04/11 Pamela White sequel is bad but lively 2 stars
8/23/10 Cat Smith Boring, badley written and not comedy to speak of, insulting to the audience. 1 stars
12/20/09 amy I thought the 1st movie was better than this one. This one sort of dragged for me... 3 stars
5/28/09 D A dull and lifeless bore...like watching paint dry 1 stars
5/28/09 Darren Dickson it's interesting... 4 stars
5/24/09 Brandon Allin Fun family film worth seeing. 5 stars
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  22-May-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 01-Dec-2009


  DVD: 01-Dec-2009

Directed by
  Shawn Levy

Written by
  Robert Ben Garant
  Thomas Lennon
  Scott Frank

  Ben Stiller
  Amy Adams
  Hank Azaria

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