NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN

After a too-affectionate titles sequence reminding the audience of the charms of the first movie, and a very slow start to induct newcomers into the premise of the franchise without actually explaining it very well, the movie wisely trades Central Park for the Washington Mall so the canvas can expand to the multi-museum institution of the Smithsonian. Unfortunately this excess of riches multiplies the missed opportunities. I felt the Air and Space Museum was underexploited but there’s only so much you can pack into 105 minutes.

It’s made up for by other well seized opportunities, however, such as the National Gallery of Art where Ben Stiller discovers that paintings and photographs can not only come to life, but also be jumped into. The film’s most creative shot, all too fleeting, is a glimpse from inside a photograph looking back through the frame into the real world. I would have been more than content if the film had spent the rest of its time jumping in and out of famous paintings, but I can’t blame anyone for not making a completely different movie.

Written by Reno 911! partners Thomas Lennon (recently getting more mainstream screen time in I Love You, Man and 17 Again) and Robert Ben Garant, both of whom cameo as the Wright brothers, the Night at the Museum films are successful versions of the mash-up genre to which the Scary/Date/Disaster Movies have given such a bad rep. To their credit, NATM2 succumbs only once to the easy bait of mocking recent films, with a miniature parody of a 300-style fight scene, but it is funny because Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are so earnest yet ineffectual. In other words, it works because there are characters behind the superficial film reference.

Part of the first movie’s success was that Ben Stiller is always best as a straight man for others to play off of (There’s Something About Mary, Meet the Parents) instead of as a zany cartoon (Dodgeball, Tropic Thunder). The lone exception to this, Zoolander, works so well because he is the epitome of the straight man at whose expense the joke always is (to paraphrase Winston Churchill).

Likewise here, what keeps NATM2 fun are the characters brought to life (har har) by three excellent newcomers: Hank Azaria as a megalomaniacal Pharaoh who sounds suspiciously like Stewie Griffin (I suppose it’s logical that the only voices the Simpsons regular hasn’t done before must be those on The Family Guy); Bill Hader (Seth Rogan’s patrol partner in Superbad) as the strategically incompetent General Custer with a chance for personal if not public redemption; and Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart, enthusiastically channelling Katherine Hepburn undiluted and direct from Bringing Up Baby. To say she is radiant or luminescent would be redundant since Adams seems incapable of playing a role any other way, but this one is unique for her insofar as her jodhpurs deserve a co-starring credit.

Robert Downey Jr.’s nomination this year for a comedy like Tropic Thunder makes me hopeful that Adams could be nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2010. I can understand why some have tired of her alleged shtick, but she makes it seem so genuine that I can’t help but buy it hook, line, and sinker. As Sally Hawkins demonstrated last year in Happy-Go-Lucky, if making a perky, irrepressibly optimistic character likeable isn’t an acting achievement, I don’t know what is.

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9 thoughts on “NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN

  1. jeri says:

    So, should I see it for $11 or wait for $2?!

  2. Nobody says:

    That’s a tough one. I think it was worth it for Amy Adams’ infectious performance alone, and there is a kind of spectacle to all the planes and rockets in the Air and Space Museum, but it’s not really an action movie and the sound is not particularly important. I think Adams and Azaria make the movie and there are not many scenes without one or the other of them involved.

    But I’m not quite willing to argue you into spending five and a half times as much as you could spend on it a month from now, like I would for Star Trek or something.

  3. redison says:

    I was going to skip this one altogether even though I liked the first, but the family thought it would be fun to go to a Drive-in on Sunday night… pros for sure (cheap double feature, you can bring your own food), though cons aplenty (it gets terribly cold outside and my family has a knack for entering bad mood territory after 9:30 pm, just when I’m beginning to enter the land of ‘giddy as a schoolgirl’.)

    The movie was actually quite funny! And the fleeting moment you speak of (the frame looking into the real world) was nice! The Pharaoh consistently tickled my funny bone, and Adams is cute, adorable, bubbly, and will, by hook or by crook, marry me someday.

    All in all, I liked it and I’ll actually seek out the next one (if there is one)… dollar theater probably, or a Drive-in…

    And while Drive-ins are in topic, did you know that they’ve gotten rid of the speakers that you hook onto your window? They use radio transmission now, which is nice as far as sound goes, but I was actually looking forward to using one of those window speakers, since so special a childhood artifact they had become in my mind…

  4. jeri says:

    I never did get to see a movie in a drive-in with the box thing. It’s always been with the radio. The funnest one I went to was to see Little Miss Sunshine, and they invited a bunch of VW Buses to come and line up in the front. The first several rows were all buses. It was great. But from my childhood I always expected that box too, because I had seen it in so many movies!

  5. redison says:

    I’m pretty sure I saw Home Alone 1 or 2 at a drive-in in Anaheim with the box, a drive-in theater (like so many) no longer in service… :/

    Also, something I forgot to mention about the movie… am I the only one who noticed the ridiculous amount of “Office” cast involved? Pretty sure there were at least 3 or 4 from the American cast, and Ricky Gervais from the British… Anyway, minor observation…

  6. Nobody says:

    My dad took me to the Christmas 1982 re-release of Disney’s Peter Pan at (I presume) the South Bay Six Drive-In the armpit of the 91 and 110 interchange. He reports that at two years old I was too young to get the point of the outing because I spent the whole movie pointing at airplanes flying overhead. D’oh!

  7. linds says:

    Glad you liked the film. I only happened to catch the first one on tv last week, and was so unexpectedly charmed by it, I insisted on an opening night outing for the sequel (Nate, thankfully, loves me a lot). We both had a lot of fun, and I think we might both want to be Amylia Adhart. :)

  8. Nobody says:

    Ah ha, I see what you did there!

  9. sometimes i find Ben Stiller to be a bit boring and he is overacting sometimes-;;

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