Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Not much new in second visit to 'Museum'
'People, Mr. Daly, want the next thing," says a character to ex-museum guard Larry Daly (Ben Stiller) in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," and there's Hollywood's rationale for sequelitis in an over-budgeted, computer-generated nutshell. The follow-up to the surprise 2006 hit movie reeks of No. 2: It's bigger, noisier, shinier, and dumber, and it has no earthly reason to exist. The kids will scarf it down like junk food and move on.
Still, let's savor the few pieces of wit that have made it through the sausage factory intact. First and foremost is Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah, the villainous Egyptian pharaoh who rules over Washington's Smithsonian Archives when night falls and the magic tablet of the first film animates the exhibits. The actor combines Boris Karloff's plummy diction from the original "Mummy" with a lisp worthy of Monty Python's Michael Palin; you could close your eyes and have a ball just listening to him, but then you'd miss Azaria's slyly hammy way with a tunic.
Also inspired is the way the paintings, sculptures, and photographs in the complex's fine arts wing come alive, from a pirouetting Degas ballerina to a bouncing Jeff Koons balloon dog. At one point the heroes take refuge in a blowup of Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous snapshot of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, and for a head-spinning moment we're in a black-and-white '40s movie, complete with guys from Flatbush.
The rest is inane, overstuffed frenzy. The plot has the exhibits from New York's Museum of Natural History mothballed and shipped to gather dust in the Smithsonian's warehouses; Larry journeys down to rescue his friends, rediscover his calling in life (successful businessman, bad; museum guard, good), and woo the plucky Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). Since she's slated to turn to wood at dawn, there's not a lot of future in the relationship.
What's most galling about "Battle of the Smithsonian" is its waste of real talent. Robin Williams's Teddy Roosevelt is left behind in New York and the pairing of Owen Wilson's itty-bitty cowboy and Steve Coogan's miniature Octavius is a bust this time. (Coogan looks actively depressed to be here.)
Of the new characters, Adams's Earhart is a flighty pill with no resemblance to the woman herself, Alain Chabat's Napoleon is the butt of wheezy short jokes, and why cast Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible if you're going to smother him in fake whiskers and not let him do anything? Bill Hader's General George Custer is typical of the movie's approach: Hire a "funny" actor, roll the cameras, and let him schpritz until he runs out of gas. It's a family film - who needs a script?
It's possible that the people responsible for this movie - director Shawn Levy and writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon - think they're teaching kids about history. Well, no, they're dumbing down history to the shopping-mall level of rapping cherubim, a jive-talking Abe Lincoln, and a crew of Albert Einstein bobbleheads singing "That's the Way I Like It." "Battle of the Smithsonian" is to the first movie what a gift shop is to a museum: a hallway full of overpriced bling you pass through on your way out the door.