If the first “Night at the Museum” was weighed down with a cookie-cutter plot involving the stale idea of a single dad desperate to redeem himself in his son’s eyes, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” has no weight whatsoever thanks to a flat story loaded with monstrous plot holes and a cast of dull, one-dimensional characters.
There’s also only one laugh — one — and all the special effects in the world simply can’t make up for a single chuckle over 105 very long minutes. The only good news is that Ben Stiller appeared to be even more bored than I was.
If you remember, Larry Daley (Stiller) was once a night guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York City where after the sun went down, thanks to ancient artifact, the exhibits all came to life. Mayhem ensued, adventure was had and lifelong friendships were formed.
A few years have passed (between films and for our characters) and today Larry has managed to tinker his way into fortune and some fame as a highly successful entrepreneur hawking inventions, like his glow-in-the-dark flashlight (so you can find it when the power goes out, duh), on infomercials.
As is always the case in these films, success has made Larry unhappy and distracted, too worried about business meetings and deal-making to be the good father and friend he once was. For months now he’s neglected his museum friends and when he does show up for a long overdue visit he finds most of them boxed up for permanent storage, bound for the basement of the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Of course Larry will have to save them and in the process the entire Smithsonian comes alive, including paintings, sculptures, a black and white Al Capone, a preening General Custer (Bill Hader), an obnoxious, hyper-feminist Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and even the giant President Lincoln normally found seated in his DC memorial. Returning for a second round is Owen Wilson’s miniature cowboy, who’s given much more to do than the barely returning Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Attila the Hun and Sacajawea.
Hank Azaria is our flamboyant baddie Kahmunrah, a lisping Pharaoh desperate to get his hands on the artifact that brought him and everything else to life. The plan is to resurrect his 2000 year old army and take over the world … or some such thing.
Other than the special effects, which are convincing, it’s obvious no one cared about anything else like believable relationships or a plot that made a lick of sense. The plot holes that keep Larry alive and running around all on his own are insulting. This isn’t a movie aimed at kids, this is a movie aimed at dumb kids … kids in need of helmets.
The dialogue’s terrible, full of those halting, irreverent asides that increasingly pass for wit these days, and the action scenes lack both excitement and tension. People run, people fight, people talk and talk and talk. Every character arc feels forced, the relationships even more so. When the great Ricky Gervais can’t brighten up his bookended moments, what hope is there for anything else?
Most lacking is any sense of magic or joy. When a movie advertises the Smithsonian coming to life, no matter how lackluster the rest might be, you expect at least a couple of “wow” moments, but there’s not a single one.
If there’s anything to recommend it’s a rare and appreciated sense of reverence director Shawn Levy shows for American history in this, a mainstream Hollywood film produced for young, impressionable minds. Even General Custer is given an un-PC opportunity to redeem himself and it’s nice to hear Teddy Roosevelt call America “a great country” and Amelia Earhart credit “American ingenuity” for the invention of flight. It’s just a sad fact these days that characters aren’t allowed to talk like this.
Most interesting is a moment in front of the White House when a historical character says something like, “I’ve heard a great man leads this union.” You have to wonder if that line would’ve been allowed when Bush was president or had McCain won… Damn, I’m cynical.
Between this and the equally uninspired “Terminator Salvation,” if you must leave the house for a movie this holiday weekend, Blockbuster is your best gamble.