“You’ve given me the adventure of a lifetime in one night.”
Ben Stiller reprises his role as Larry Daley, night watchman at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Larry’s recent enterprising fortunes change the story dynamic initially, but a distress call quickly places him back with his historical friends.
Hank Azaria plays the villainous Kahmunrah, older brother of Ahkmenrah, who forces the group to give him the special life-giving tablet so he can dominate the world. Surprisingly these brothers don't have a scene together as filmmakers concentrate on more action elements. Stiller's flashlight skills and physical prowess fit in well especially after his role in Tropic Thunder. “I’m way past the stairwell,” Larry says as the story scope expands at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Larry’s son, Nicky helps his dad navigate through this huge museum via computer, but his role is minimal.
This fantasy concentrates on new characters including the Tuskegee Airmen and Amelia Earhart, played by Amy Adams. “I smell adventure,” Amelia says as she latches on to Larry who rescues Attila the Hun, the cavemen, Sacajawea and the rest from Kahmunrah. Azaria also voices Abe Lincoln and The Thinker while comedian Bill Hader also gets laughs as General George Armstrong Custer. Jonah Hill has a small but functional role as a museum guard who trades comic barbs with Stiller in a memorable scene reproduced at an even funnier level later in the story.
Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan reprise their memorable pairing of cowboy Jedediah Smith and Roman warrior Octavius. Robin Williams bookends the film with his reprisal role as Teddy Roosevelt as well as an amusing statue bust scene in the middle.
Canadian Shawn Levy returns to direct this adventure-filled sequel. Levy and his crew recycle the effective big-to-little perspective shots (e.g. Octavius in the White House lawn in this one and letting the air out of the van tires in the first Night at the Museum). Admirable character logic in problem solving (e.g. covering a fast moving squid some refreshing water instead of cowering in fear) really enhances the overall appeal.
It’s fun to revel in the ridiculous antics (e.g. the Jonas Brothers as singing cherubs) while learning about history and other subjects. Monkey language translations, chest bumps, and Kahmunrah’s comical “axis of evil” (Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Al Capone) get good laughs. There are some mildly hokey moments, but they’re so quick they don’t have a chance to make you squirm in your seat.
The film needs more awe-inspiring moments like the “living paintings” in the museum art galleries, though filmmakers do a great job keeping explanations and semantics to a minimum. The rapid fire summaries align with the film’s quick pace and are not forced or manipulative, especially in a key conversation near the end between Larry and the New York Museum of Natural History’s curator, Dr. McPhee, played again by Ricky Gervais in a more functional role that does not produce many laughs.
Watch the credits for some continuity gems like the cell phone Larry left in the 1945 black and white painting. This 105 minute film comes recommended with a few reservations and rated PG for mild action and brief language. Also playing in IMAX theaters.