Amy Adams, left, and Ben Stiller behold the exhibits in "Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian." (Doane Gregory)
A hectic toy store of a movie, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" is packed with odd characters, eccentric arguments and ornate special effects, and while it's never transcendently funny enough to be seriously impressive, it is chock full of family-friendly giggles.
The best laughs actually have little to do with the special effects. They're to be found in the borderline lisp of bad guy Kahmunrah (played by Hank Azaria, who also tackles Abraham Lincoln and The Thinker); in the ridiculous, repetitive conversations hero Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) finds himself in; and in the twinkle of the come-to-life Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). This is a movie thats sum is not the equal of its parts, but many of the parts are good enough to keep you going.
Is it great art? Of course not. Is it even a good movie? Not really. But it's summertime popcorn fun you can take the kids to without feeling as if you're inflicting psychological damage.
This time around, Larry Daley is no longer a lowly museum night watchman. He has instead become an infomercial dynamo, hawking useless inventions on TV and raking in the bucks. When he returns to New York's Museum of Natural History to visit the exhibits that magically come alive at night, he finds that most are being discontinued and boxed up to be shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where they will dwell in basement anonymity.
Preoccupied with his business, Larry decides to try to right this wrong sometime soon. But then he receives a panicked call from tiny cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson). His friends are being terrorized by the evil Kahmunrah who, like most evil ancient pharaohs, wants to open a door to another dimension to let in hordes of otherworldly warriors who will give him control of Earth.
Or something like that. Kahmunrah quickly enlists the help of Napoleon, Al Capone and Ivan the Terrible. When he arrives to rescue his friends, the best Larry can come up with is the spunky Earhart and an incompetent Gen. George Custer (Bill Hader).
Throw in cute monkeys, some irritating cupids, assorted mobile statuary, various Huns and Neanderthals and much running about, and this "Museum" looks a lot like the first "Museum," which is surely intentional.
But somehow things this time seem a bit more kooky, which probably has to do with "Reno 911" writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant being let a bit further out of their cages.
The talent level here is somewhat astonishing, with Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and Jay Baruchel popping up. Heck, this movie even has Clint Howard!
The one star who looks uncomfortable is Wilson, who spends most of his time talking to green screens, and it shows. Some actors need actual actors to bounce off.
Of course this can partly be blamed on director Shawn Levy, who just seems to dump elements into a blender and splay them across the screen.
Still, everyone seems to be having fun, and that fun is at least a bit contagious. "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" is harmless silliness graced by occasional bouts of inspiration. Things could be worse.
Ben Stiller gets a hand when the Lincoln Memorial comes alive in ... (Twentieth Century Fox)
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