Monday, May 25, 2009

Movie Review: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian ** ½
Directed By:
Shawn Levy.
Written By: Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon.
Starring: Ben Stiller (Larry Daley), Amy Adams (Amelia Earhart), Owen Wilson (Jedediah Smith), Hank Azaria (Kahmunrah / The Thinker / Abe Lincoln), Robin Williams (Teddy Roosevelt), Christopher Guest (Ivan the Terrible), Alain Chabat (Napoleon Bonaparte), Steve Coogan (Octavius), Ricky Gervais (Dr. McPhee), Bill Hader (General George Armstrong Custer), Jon Bernthal (Al Capone), Patrick Gallagher (Attila the Hun), Jake Cherry (Nicky Daley), Rami Malek (Ahkmenrah), Mizuo Peck (Sacajawea), Jay Baruchel (Sailor Joey Motorola), Mindy Kaling (Docent), Jonah Hill (Brandon), Keith Powell (Tuskegee Airman #1), Craig Robinson (Tuskegee Airman #2).

Gene Hackman once said something along the line of you can tell how good a performance is giving by how much fun they are having. The more fun they are having the better the performance. If that were really true (which I don’t think it is), then Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian would have been the best acted movie of the year. Everyone in the movie seems to be having the time of their lives playing these strange historical characters come back to life. Their enthusiasm is somewhat infectious. You cannot help but have at least a little fun watching this talented cast riffing on each other. That the movie that surrounds them is for all intents and purposes quite bad and not very well thought out almost ceases to matter. They’re having fun, and to a certain extent so are we.

The movie opens with Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) who has left his job as a night guard at the museum of natural history to start his own company – Daley Devices – which has become wildly successful. He doesn’t have much time to visit his old friends anymore, but whenever he does, he has fun. That’s why it’s so disparaging to find out that most of the exhibits are being shipped off to the Smithsonian for permanent storage in the vast archives that run underneath the 19 museums that make up the Smithsonian. Worse still is that Ahkmenrah and his magical tablet are going to be staying, meaning that none of these exhibits will ever be able to come back to life again. That is unless a certain monkey steals the tablet, and essentially sets off a battle in the underground storage area. When Jebediah (Owen Wilson) calls Larry to tell him what is going on, Larry drops everything to head to Washington to try and save his friends from Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), Akmanrah’s evil brother who wants the tablet to unlock the door to the underworld and unleash his army of the dead in a quest for world domination. Larry teams up with Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) to try and put a stop to all of this.

The only reason to watch Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is to see its talented cast riffing on each other. I have no way of knowing this for sure, but the movie certainly does feel like a lot of it was improvised, and the entire cast is game. Ben Stiller plays the type of character he’s best at – a guy who gets more and more frustrated as the movie goes along, and always seems to be exasperated. Nowhere is this more enjoyable than in his scene with Jonah Hill as Brandon (pronounced Brundon), a security guard who gets mad at him because he was moving in on an exhibit with ITT (Intent To Touch). Amy Adams is the best new addition to the cast as Amelia Earhart, although she appears to be playing more Katherine Hepburn, or another screwball comedy actress, than Earhart herself. But as always, Adams is adorable and likable throughout. Hank Azaria is also good fun as Kahmunrah who seems disappointed that no one seems to be overly impressed with his coming back to life after thousands of years. Bill Hader also has a lot of fun as General Custer, who is fond of saying things like “We’re Americans, we don’t think, we do!”. When these, and the rest of the new additions, are added to the cast from the last movie, you have many of the most talented comedic actors working right now. They even raid the casts of The Office, and the stock company of Judd Apatow, to help fill out even the smallest roles.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is aimed at the family movie market, and there is no doubt that the kids will end up loving the movie. Parents, stuck with their kids watching the film, will likely be pleasantly surprised by how quickly the time passes, and how many laughs, or at least chuckles, they get out of the film. Is it good enough for adults without children to spend the night at the movies watching? Not really. It’s a pretty lame plot, and because its aimed at kids, they feel the need to tack on some unnecessary “lessons” to the movie. But watching the movie is a pleasant enough experience. It does what it sets out to do.

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