Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
You can’t argue with the talent onboard this sequel to the 2005 family film hit. Ben Stiller is, of course, back as museum security guard Larry Daley; Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as his diminutive buddies, the cowboy Jebediah Smith and the Roman Centurian Octavius; Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt (twice, actually); Hank Azaria as the Ancient Egyptian heavy, Kahmunrah; Ricky Gervais as the Museum of Natural History director Dr McPhee; Bill Hader as General Custer; Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible; Alain Chabat as Napoleon; and last but not least, Amy Adams as aviator Amelia Earhart.
The good news is that each gets a laugh or two. The bad news is, that’s about it.
When I visited the set last year director Shawn Levy claimed he didn’t commit to the sequel until he was convinced the script was up to par. But the film is a shambles and the screenplay is the reason.
Things get off on the wrong foot with an update on Larry’s life over the intervening couple of years. Seems he’s managed to keep the museum’s nightlife a very big secret, but independently of all that he’s struck it rich with inventions like the glow-in-the-dark torch, and consequently neglected his waxwork chums. So much so it comes as a shock to learn they’re being packed up and shipped off to the maze of archives deep underneath the Smithsonian complex of museums in Washington DC, supposedly without the magical stone that brings them to life every sundown. Except the monkey sneaks it into the shipment without anyone noticing, and Larry gets an SOS call from Jedediah: his friends are in danger and a serious bad guy is trying to use the stone to free the army of the underworld. Or something. Larry blunders in, disguises himself as a guard, and soon all manner of exhibits and artifacts are springing to life.
If that last, long paragraph sounded heavy-handed it’s equally so on screen. The movie takes an age to get going, and when it does get going it still doesn’t know where it’s heading. At one point Larry falls into the hands of Kahmunrah and his sidekicks, Al Capone, Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon – and they send him away again with the stone! Twenty minutes later they see him walking across the grass between two museums, leap to the conclusion that he’s double-crossed them and is trying to escape, and set off to recapture him.
It’s hard to believe such sloppiness isn’t evidence they made this one up as they went along.
On the flip side, the movie is bursting with fun ideas. Amy Adams’ Amelia is a dizzy screwball dame in tight jodhpurs and a snappy line in 30s slang, but for all her feistiness (she’s probably the best thing in it), the moviemakers can’t think of much for her to do. Running into an art gallery, Larry and Amelia consult Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker for advice, but he turns out to have nothing between his ears. Amelia dances briefly with a Degas ballerina, and they take refuge in Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous photo of a sailor kissing a girl on V-J Day… but again, this black and white detour turns out to be a deadend.
There’s not enough screen time for any of the myriad supporting characters to make much impression – I’d love to have seen more of the bickering between the baddies, but they’re scarcely there. Steve Coogan makes the most of his minimal opportunities but whatever handle Ricky Gervais thinks he has on his character, he just comes off as weird and creepy.
Kids probably won’t mind the loose ends and duff jokes, though they might find the focus on American historical figures a bit perplexing.
In the end, it’s not that Night at the Museum 2 is so bad, but with this much money, and this much talent, it should have been so much better.
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