Ben Stiller returns with the usual suspects in this enjoyable second installment of the Night at the Museum series. The film's basic strength is its appeal to both adults and children and the ensemble cast of terrific character actors.
The plot is quite simple - the museum characters face extinction, and Stiller's mission is to save them. Stiller's strength has always been to play the regular guy caught up in an irregular situation, and he demonstrates this again in the movie. The film's main surprise is Amy Adams, who plays Amelia Earhart. She lights up the screen with a confidence evocative of the "can do" woman, and plays the main foil to Stiller's everyday man.
However, this film just does not stand up as well as the first one. While the first had a more balanced blend of appeal to both children and adults and had more time for character development, Battle of the Smithsonian seems to focus more on toilet comedy and quick laughs. It also suffers from trying to squeeze in the talents of Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Owen Wilson, and Christopher Guest, among others, in less than two hours. Focusing on one specific character is quite hard to do without diluting the others, and this happens when most of the attention is focused on the talented Azaria.
Also, much missed are the talents of Carla Gugino, whose character disappears without any notice. Sorely underused are the funny Ricky Gervais and the always dependable Owen Wilson.
One thing can be said about the Night at the Museum series thus far: While it may be a poor attempt to educate viewers about history, it can serve as a good starting point for kids to arouse their interest in it. History buffs and purists may disagree, but in this day and age of Nintendo and Playstation holding the attention of children of all ages the world over, this movie is a boon. Hopefully, the kids who watch this film will get interested in, say, the real Amelia Earhart, by the great on-screen portrayal of Amy Adams, or try to find out more about the real Napoleon Bonaparte or what Ivan the Terrible really did.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian stands up better compared to the overly pretentious "re-boots" currently in release. Kids of all ages will still get laughs and kicks out of this one. Take your family with you when you can.