Let’s face it; there is only ONE thing parents want to know about this sequel to 2005’s megasuccessful Night at the Museum: will it distract my kid for an hour and a half? I really hate to reduce a film to such a base pre-requisite; but as dreary-eyed and sleep-deprived mums and dads prepare to hand over their well-earned money for a family outing, I feel it is my sworn duty as a film reviewer to prepare them adequately. The answer is yes. Mostly. Unless your six-year-old child is known for walking out of a cinema saying “the colour palette was great, but the pacing was way off.”
So parents, if you’ve managed to escape the clutches of your children for another five minutes, won’t you join us as we delve deeper into Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. Of course, attempting a profound analysis of NATM2 would be like attempting to swim up a skyscraper – unnecessary, painful and kind-of embarrassing. This film has no interest in being smart. This is a film in which even Rodin’s Thinker doesn’t really have much going on upstairs. It would be unfair to expect the same from the movie.
Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daly, the former night-guard of the Museum of Natural History-turned millionaire inventor. Although the exhibits at the museum still come to life at night (thanks to a magical Egyptian relic), Larry hasn’t found the time in his busy schedule to check up on friends Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), tiny cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and cheeky Capuchin Dexter. In his absence, the exhibits have been packed up and sent for archival storage under the Smithsonian in Washington.
Larry decides to head on over to rescue his friends who are now under attack from newly resurrected Egyptian overlord Kah Mun Rah (a wonderfully hammy Hank Azaria) as well as Ivan the Terrible (an underused Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). And no, you weren’t sleeping in history class; Kah Mun Rah is not an actual Egyptian figure. Kind of odd that screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant felt the need to invent a villain, despite having centuries of crazy dictators to borrow from. Saying that, I’m not sure how parents would feel about taking their children to a movie in which Adolf Hitler himself turned up to cause mischief. Maybe in Night at the Museum 3: Triumph of the Will.
So, it’s basically the same high-concept shenanigans as the first outing, although with some welcome new cast members. Amy Adams turns up as Amelia Earhart, to steal the heart of both Ben Stiller and the entire audience. Quite seriously, if there is a more lovable actress working today, I will eat my shoes. Saturday Night Live funnyman Bill Hader stars as General Custer, while his Superbad co-star Jonah Hill is an early highlight as an edgy museum guard. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to naming the great comic actors who spend their night at the Smithsonian; each of them having a great time and doing their darndest to make you laugh.
Sadly, with so many great actors, the film ends up being a bloated mess of missed potential, with virtually all secondary characters given (at the most) two or three minutes of screen time. To briefly speak of the picture’s technical attributes, NATM2 features a smorgasbord of unconvincing CGI and green-screen acting. I’m not sure if anyone in this film actually acted alongside anyone else, or if the performances were all cut together in the editing suite. Finally, director Levy doesn’t have the visual chops of a Burton or a Del Toro to inspire awe in the audience. Seeing Stiller and Adams fly the Wright Brothers Plane through the Air and Space Museum should be jaw-dropping. It’s not. With the exception of a brilliant black-and-white sequence that I won’t spoil here, the film lacks imagination. But as far as distractions go, you could do a lot worse. I would go on, but I think the kids are waking up.