Night at the Museum was a mammoth hit in theatres in December 2006, ruling the box office for three weeks, taking in almost $200,000,000 in the process. Starring Ben Stiller as an unemployed man who takes a job as a night watchman at a natural history museum only to discover that the displays come alive when the sun goes down, the movie mixed Jumanji with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the usual Stiller shtick. Remarkable it was not, but no chance to make wheel barrels of cash ever goes unanswered in Hollywood, so this weekend Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, a bigger, louder riff on the first film, opens at a theatre near you.
As the movie begins the Museum of Natural History has been closed for renovations with many of its older exhibits being sent to deep storage in the federal archives under the Smithsonian in Washington. When Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), the former heroic Natural History night watchman, now a workaholic inventor and infomercial star (he’s the Sham Wow guy without the hooker scandal), returns to find out that his beloved “shabby stuffed monkeys and ratty displays” are being discarded in favor of high-tech interactive exhibits he vows to do something about it. Breaking into the Smithsonian’s storage area he clashes with the evil Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), and his band of despicable henchmen (Al Capone and Ivan the Terrible) who plan on using a golden tablet to awaken an ancient army and take over the world. Enlisting aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) to maintain order, Larry tries to unravel the mystery of the tablet before it is too late.
Night at the Museum redux is a carbon copy of its successful predecessor. The location has changed, but little else is different. The screenwriters couldn’t even be bothered to come up with a new style villain, so we have another Pharaoh, this time the comically evil brother of the first movies’ Ahkmenrah.
Luckily for us, though, the wicked sibling is played with verve and a great Boris Karloff accent, by Hank Azaria, who is one of the high points in these otherwise very familiar proceedings. He gives the weak script—it’s more a premise than a story—some life, hamming it up and earning most of the film’s laughs.
Other than that there’s plenty of kid friendly slapstick and computer generated thrills, but no amount of CGI could make up for the lack of spark between leads Ben Stiller and Amy Adams.
He’s in family friendly mode here—all the usual square-peg-in-a-round-hole edge that informs his best work is gone—and she is simply doing a sassy dame impression, à la Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey. Together they romp through the museum, jumping in and out of classic photographs and battling the great warriors of history, but it all feels a bit been there, done that.