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

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Free from the shackles of the “hows” and “whys” of its premise, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian  is able to engage in more loosey-goosey lunacy than its astoundingly popular predecessor and unleash a family-friendly chaos that is both toothless yet still charming enough to merit a pass.

Ben Stiller's night museum guard Larry Daley is now comfortably atop an infomercial empire (not nearly as amusing as it could have been), and his time spent with his historic friends has been infrequent at best. For they are all now in jeopardy of being replaced by a new interactive holographic image that will once again make museums hip and happening with the kids.

This move also puts a tablet that apparently summons the army of the dead within reach of an evil Pharaoh Kahmunrah (played by Hank Azaria, chewing on the role to its marrow). And as the scope widens, so does the cast and, more importantly, the opportunities. Director Shawn Levy is still woefully shortsighted in his direction, but Smithsonian's canvas has now broadened to breathe life into more than just the wax statues, but also paintings, photographs, busts, and monuments.

And the film populates the roles with a roster of top-tier comedians and actors, some are sadly underused while others rise to the occasion. What is interesting (and, perhaps, frustrating) is that the old guard jokesters are frequently upstaged by their contemporaries. Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel, two actors form the Judd Apatow factory, are given more amusing cameos than contributions from dependable players such as Christopher Guest, Owen Wilson, and Steve Coogan.

But MVP for the sequel goes to Amy Adams, once again proving that she can somehow harness the sun's energy and radiate it on screen. Her Amelia Earhart seems at once fresh and of the era. Firing off lines as though she was a human Tommy gun, Adams takes what could have been a toss-away role and snags the spotlight from the star himself. Levy would be a fool to not invite her back for the (inevitable) next late-night Museum romp.

The comedy trickles through the film in tiny drops when it should flood the screen during its wilder moments (the Lincoln monument is a particular waste, as is a giant squid that is just another draft of the original’s T Rex skeleton). But what it lacks in yuks, it does make up for with impressive effects, with a painting from Degas, Lichtenstein, Wood’s “American Gothic” and a trio of lovelorn cupids (voiced by the Jonas Brothers, no less) as particular standouts.

It contains none of the heart of the similar Toy Story films (inanimate objects involved in adventure when unattended), but it does merit points for making art and history somewhat hip in the eyes of its targeted younger audience.

Still, it would be wonderful to imagine just what the next installment could envision if directorial duties were handed over to a left-field visionary like Michel Gondry. That would truly be a Night to remember.

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