Fox // 2009 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 11th, 2009
When the lights go off, the battle is on.
I wasn't a particularly big fan of the first Night at the Museum, but that may not really be the fault of the film. You see, I was forced to watch it a half-dozen times in a row with a large group of chatty children on a bus trip to Washington D.C. (long story, as you might imagine). By round six, I was more than ready to bid farewell to Ben Stiller and his merry band of reanimated wax figures for the remainder of eternity. However, quite a few people enjoyed the film a great deal more than I did, and its strong box office performance ensured a big-budget sequel. So how does Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian stack up to its predecessor? Eh, it's basically more of the same, just a little bit bigger and a little bit louder.
In the original film, museum night guard Larry Daly (Ben Stiller, Zoolander) was involved in a great big adventure in which the wax figures at the Museum of Natural History in New York came to life thanks to the magical powers of an ancient Egyptian tablet. Larry's adventure earned him a great deal of fame and success, and now he's a C-level pop culture figure who spends his time selling glow-in-the-dark flashlights on television infomercials co-starring George Foreman. One day, he decides to pay a visit to Museum of Natural History in order to check in on his friends Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, Jumanji), Jedediah Smith the Cowboy (Owen Wilson, You, Me and Dupree), Octavius the Roman Soldier (Steve Coogan, Around the World in 80 Days), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck, Peace of Mind), and the other museum residents. Unfortunately, it seems that all is not well at the museum. The wax figures are being replaced by interactive electronic displays and shipped off to the basement of the Smithsonian in Washington.
Larry is saddened by this news, but figures that there's nothing he can do. He bids farewell to his friends, but later that night he gets a frantic call from Jedediah. It seems that the group is being attacked by the villainous pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons). It's up to Larry to break into the Smithsonian archives and save his waxy friends. Along the way, he'll meet such colorful figures as Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams, Enchanted), Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest, A Mighty Wind), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal, Eastwick), General Custer (Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live), and Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat, The Science of Sleep).
Just like the first film, Battle of the Smithsonian is a combination of frenzied action sequences, goofy comedy, and sentimental syrup. Also just like the first film, most of it doesn't really stick. Director Shawn Levy is so confident in the impressiveness of his special effects and the overwhelming star power of his cast that he never bothers with trying anything particularly ambitious or inventive. The movie contains so many big-name actors that many viewers will probably spend so much time saying, "Look, it's so-and-so!" that they never even notice there's very little substance to this expensive affair. Though a few folks manage to make a genuinely good impression (Azaria's turn as Kahmunrah is fun even if his voiceover bits as Abe Lincoln & The Thinker fall flat, Amy Adams brings her trademark enthusiasm to the proceedings and the likes of Ricky Gervais and Jonah Hill amuse in cameo roles), overall there's a distinct feeling of, "we're all just doing this for the cash."
The action sequences are slick yet unimaginative. Amelia Earhart is in the movie, so of course there's going to be a scene in which she and Larry zoom through the museum in her airplane. A pharaoh is the bad guy, so of course there will be a scene in which Larry attempts to escape hordes of Egyptian soldiers throwing spears at him. And of course there's the inevitable third-act free-for-all in which all of the characters chaotically attack each other in their own stereotypical manner. As you might expect, the rules of logic that drive the comedy are terribly inconsistent: sometimes the characters are baffled by the technology of the modern world, while other times they're making loads of soon-to-be-dated pop culture references. Did we really need a scene of Albert Einstein bobblehead dolls singing "That's the Way (I Like It)"? Despite all my complaining, the film isn't really obnoxiously bad. I saw several less impressive flicks during the summer of 2009 (Terminator: Salvation, Year One, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), but it's still rather banal family fare.
I'm unable to speak about the transfer due to the fact that I reviewed a screener disc from Fox sporting sub-par video and audio quality.
In terms of supplemental material, Fox is taking the same approach with this release as they did with Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, releasing the movie as single disc DVD but packaging it with an additional bonus disc for a limited time. On the standard release, you'll find no less than two audio commentaries, a rather dull one with director Shawn Levy and a somewhat more entertaining outing with writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (of Reno 911! fame). "The Curators of Comedy" (20 minutes) is the standard 20-minute EPK-style featurette, featuring nonsensical statements Levy about how he wasn't going to make a sequel until he found a truly worthy and worthwhile story. Meanwhile, the cast seems to struggle to find enthusiastic things to say about the movie. Curiously enough, this brief piece is divided into six chapters. You also get five deleted scenes, a gag reel, a 5-minute piece spotlighting Azariah and a silly little 4-minute piece spotlighting the involvement of the Jonas Brothers (I know, I know).
The second disc (which comes in its own individual case) is called "Monkey Mischief," and features a variety of kid-centric goodies. "Monkey Business" (5 minutes) is a quick look at the challenges of using monkeys in a live-action film, "Primate Prima Donnas" (6 minutes) offers interviews with the monkey trainers (and features some fun little bits with Gervais interacting with the monkeys), and "The Secret Life of a Monkey Movie Star" (6 minutes) is a lame Cribs-style piece showing us the kind of privileged lives the movie monkeys live. You also get two dull interactive games, "Monkey Slap" and "Able and Dexter's Flights of Fancy." Meh. Everything of substance is on the single disc, so I wouldn't worry too much about going out of your way to get this 2-pack.
I feel the same way about Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian as I do about most every Shawn Levy film. It's tolerable family fare, but you could do a lot better.
Guilty of wasting a great deal of talent.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Interactive Games
* Cinema Verdict Review