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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Night at the Museum: Battle of the...

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

It’s another night at another museum for security guard-turned-infomercial mogul Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) whose latest venture is a glow in the dark flashlight.  A visit to New York’s American Museum of Natural History, his first in two years, reunites him with some of his famous friends from the highly successful 2006 original film of the same title; well the same first four words in the title anyway -  no colon.

Daley finds that some of the exhibits are being shipped off to Washington D.C. for storage in the Smithsonian archives, a huge underground archival facility where they’ll no doubt languish.

Reanimated by the magical golden Egyptian tablet that makes such things possible from dusk until dawn are Jedediah the cowboy (Owen Wilson), Octavius the Roman general (Steve Coogan), and rough rider Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams).  A Capuchin monkey, T. rex and a few Neanderthals also turn out to greet their old pal.

Events take a sudden turn when Daley is summoned to the Smithsonian compound by Jedediah because the old gang is in distress from Egyptian ruler Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) who has possession of the golden tablet.  Daley drops everything to rescue his pals from danger, and the Smithsonian collection from chaos, not stopping even to muse about how tiny Jed could have operated a phone.  That’s a real friend.

A scene between a flashlight-toting martinet of a Smithsonian security guard (Jonah Hill) and Daley is one of the most humorous in the film, resulting in Daley impersonating the guard and gaining access to the enormous compound.

Enter evil Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) brother to the New York museum pharaoh Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek).  Evidently a museum isn’t complete without one.

The battle of good against evil centers on the tablet’s powers, especially important to Kahmunrah because of its ability to mobilize an army of hawk-headed troops to do his bidding (sound familiar?).   Azaria incorporates all of the previous versions of mummy traits into his Kahmunrah, from Boris Karloff’s lisp to Arnold Vosloo’s megalomaniacal quest for power and immortality.  Just don’t mistake his tunic for a dress.  Villains who join his posse include Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest).

Daley’s got Earhart, Jed, Octavius, Roosevelt, the Neanderthals, a giant Abe Lincoln (Azaria again), the hair-obsessed General George Armstrong Custer (Bill Hader), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) and some Capuchin monkeys that slap him around.  He also gets some assistance from a group of Einstein bobble-heads (Eugene Levy) and a squirrel.

Dashing in and out of animated paintings, dodging dancing sculptures (a Degas’ ballerina takes a few spins) and consulting The Thinker (Azaria, yet again) Daley and Earhart manage to stay ahead of Kahmunrah throughout both color and black-and-white misadventures.

Special effects crowd out any character development or meaningful plot, but there’s enough action to keep the arcade/video game crowd happy and engaged even though the adult intellect may not be.  If you desire rapid, fantasy-filled events on auto pilot, a near-cosmic delineation of good and evil, Roosevelt – good, Capone – bad, then this will surely be your cup of curatorial tea.

If you don’t bother with details such as why characters from different eras and countries all have the ability to speak English – alright, the cavemen still grunt, but understand the language well enough; if you accept that planes hanging from the ceiling of the Air & Space museum are kept gassed up in case their original owners want to take them for a spin, you’ll appreciate the CGI frenzy of events.

Ben Stiller’s charismatic straight man IS something, but not everything.  He can’t and shouldn’t be expected to carry a film endowed with such a talented and recognizable ensemble cast.  You’d think.

Amy Adams is wasted as a wide-eyed ditz, doing a disservice to the pioneering, humble and intrepid Earhart’s legacy.  She adds a vague romantic interest for Daley that goes nowhere but must fill some sort of Hollywood attraction mandate.

Hank Azaria camps it up more like a queen than a king, more laughable than lawless.  Still, his heart’s in the right place and he tries mightily but is outnumbered by the crowd of lackluster ensemble performances all around him.

Returning director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, The Pink Panther) and screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have exhausted the charming discovery aspect of the first film, and now busy themselves with inventing sometimes clever, sometimes absurdly slapstick occurrences for their new entourage of characters; technical expertise trumps every other consideration and that shouldn’t be expected to carry the film either.

This is the first production to shoot inside the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., a real coup, as the iconic institution possesses literally millions of recognizable American artifacts, including a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, one of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters, Fonzie’s leather jacket and Archie Bunker’s easy chair.

Access to that kind of awesome potential comes with a great responsibility for cleverness and innovation, instead of simply unfolding CGI effects at breakneck speed.  That’s where NATM:BOTS let go of my hand and left me to wander through the halls of its treasures unescorted and in the dark, longing for a return to at least a semblance of logic.  I realize this is a fantasy that kids will swallow whole, but adults deserve something to chew on, too.


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