‘Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’: Why? Why? Why?

May 20, 2009

Here are just a few of the questions that came to mind as I watched “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”:


Why am I watching this movie?


Why would anyone watch this movie?


Why was the first film – from whose 2006 loins this sequel sprang – a hit, when it was virtually laugh-free?


Why, when I was lucky enough to somehow miss the first film, did I feel compelled to watch the DVD prior to seeing this dreadful sequel? (Answer: These are the sacrifices I make for you, the reader.)


Is it a coincidence that, as I watched the first film on DVD, I was suddenly stricken with a bout of food poisoning that caused me to lose my dinner? (TMI?)


Why did the New York Times recently profile director Shawn Levy as if he were some sort of comedy auteur, when he’s obviously Hollywood’s newest antichrist? As of now, the scariest four words in the English language are officially “A Shawn Levy Film.”


If Ben Stiller is such a comic genius, what is he doing in these movies? Answer: the same thing that Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and newcomers Amy Adams, Hank Azaria and Christopher Guest are doing. They’re collecting what one assumes must be a buttload of money – enough to salve their consciences for committing crimes against human intelligence, comedy and taste.


How can Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant be so funny on “Reno 911!” and still be responsible for writing this joke-challenged load of horse-droppings?


Since it’s a fantasy, I won’t even go into the numerous breaks with logic that litter the landscape of this interminable movie. The Wright Brothers’ plane flying around inside the Smithsonian? Sure, why not? No pedestrians at night on the Mall in Washington, D.C., to see Abe Lincoln’s statue wandering away from the Lincoln Memorial?  A little iffier. No traffic on Central Park West in front of the Museum of Natural History at dawn to see an airplane land? No effin’ way.


The plot is almost beside the point but here goes: Larry Daley (Stiller), the jobless guy who wound up working as a museum night watchman in the first film, has launched himself as an inventor/entrepreneur, using infomercials to sell products like the glow-in-the-dark flashlight. When he stops by his former job at the Museum of Natural History, he finds that the old exhibits are being packed off to storage in the National Archives at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.


Shortly thereafter, he gets a phone call from one of the exhibit figures – the miniature cowboy named Jed (Owen Wilson) – who tells him that, down in D.C., the magic tablet that brings the exhibits to life is being sought by a pharaoh mummy named Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who plans to use it to take over the world. (Never mind the logic of a miniature cowboy knowing how to use a telephone.)


So naturally, Larry skedaddles down to D.C., sneaks into the archive (dressed as a guard – what else?) and battles Kahmunrah. He even gets a new romantic interest/sidekick: Amelia Earhart, played perkily by Amy Adams in a posterior-enhancing pair of clingy jodhpurs.


The only evidence of actual wit belongs to Azaria, who seems to be doing a Boris Karloff impression. He riffs through a scene in which Kahmunrah rejects Smithsonian exhibits Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch when they apply to be henchmen. There’s another moment – a verbal stand-off with Stiller – when Azaria works his ass off. But his effort is wasted because Stiller is like a sponge, soaking up comic energy and giving back nothing in return.


The visual effects are state of the art, typified by a stunning moment when Stiller wanders into a gallery of famous sculptures and paintings, which all come to life. More inventive writers – or a director with a modicum of vision – might have been able to do something interesting with that scene. Or the whole movie.


One more question: Why do I keep going on about this truly forgettable film? Answer: I won’t.


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