The new installment of the Night at the Museum franchise, starring Ben Stiller, takes place in the grand-daddy of all museums, the Smithsonian. The first film had Larry Daley (Stiller), an average night watchman at a museum, finding out that at night a magical tablet made all the displays in the museum come to life. Now Larry has left the security guard profession to peddle cheaply made inventions pitched by George Foreman.
Battle of the Smithsonian starts out with some clever humor. The Stiller/Foreman banter is subtle, and will only be funny to the adults in the audience. But, the film doesn’t maintain this level of humor. After each subsequent scene it seems that the film slips deeper and deeper in the murky sea of generic slapstick.
The displays at Larry’s old job are about to be shipped off and stored at the Federal Archives located underneath the Smithsonian in massive storage vaults. To spice things up, Larry’s good friend Dexter the monkey, has stolen the magical tablet. Once the tablet arrives at the world’s biggest museum, everything starts coming to life.
Turns out the ancient Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) has been searching for this mystical tablet for some time now. When the tablet brings him to life, he plans to use it to summon his armies from the underworld to take over the earth.
It is a silly premise, but Night of the Museum is supposed to be a little silly, and a little whimsical. Whimsy is something the first movie achieved fairly well. Here whimsy is replaced with clumsy. Clumsy humor, clumsy scenes, and clumsy writing. It’s like the entire picture trips over itself again and again until it's black and blue.
The movie is peppered with cameos. Everyone from Jonah Hill, who plays another night watchman, to Thomas Lennon, who appears too briefly as one of the Wright brothers. Bill Hader from SNL fame plays General Custer who is one of the only genuinely funny parts in the film. Amy Adams is probably the best part of the film. As the spunky, young female pilot Amelia Earhart, she follows Larry everywhere, adding light to otherwise dim scenes. It’s hard not to love Adams whenever she’s in a movie. She has a commanding presence, not because she’s overbearing, but because she’s so darn cute. She is definitely the bright spot in this picture.
As the film lumbers along, each scene gets more and more absurd from three cupids voiced by the Jonas Brothers, to a monkey-slapping scene involving two monkeys and Ben Stiller that lasts way too long for anyone’s good, including children.
There are some glimmers of hope, some oases of cleverness in a desert of unfunny, such as when Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch try and join the evil side, or Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible. Ricky Gervais as the museum curator is amusing and understated comedy, and even Jonah Hill has a funny scene with Stiller. But, in the end the movie tries to show too much too fast. It’s overwhelming, just like that first step into anyone of the Smithsonian museums. So much to see, not enough time to devote to it all. Instead of focusing on the interesting storylines and characters, the film tries to focus on a little bit of everything until our minds are so saturated with different characters it’s hard to care anymore.