MOVIE REVIEW- Relish relics: Second <i>Night</i> brings laughs
What do you do when you're barely competent and can't make it anywhere else? You go to Washington. (Sorry, joke left over from the previous administration.)
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) showed some competence in Night at the Museum as a night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits came to life after dark.
Between then and the sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Larry's career as an inventor of stupid– but marketable– gadgets took off. He's been making infomercials with George Foreman and negotiating with Wal-Mart.
Now the museum is packing up their exhibits and sending them to the Federal Archives in Washington, and officious museum director Ricky Gervais doesn't even care. Things get worse when a call from cowboy action figure Jedediah (Owen Wilson) alerts Larry that the magical Egyptian tablet that brings the exhibits to life has traveled with them. In the long run, only Larry can prevent Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) from using it to "bring back my army from the land of the dead." (Wasn't that the plot of Hellboy II?)
In a funny scene with unbilled Jonah Hill as a museum guard, Larry steals his identity to get into the underground archives which spread beneath all 19 museums that comprise the Smithsonian Institution. You know there's product placement involved when the phrase "biggest museum in the world" comes up twice within five minutes, and the filmmakers were the first to be given permission to shoot inside– although, rest assured, all the mayhem occurs on studio sets.
Besides Jedediah, returnees from the original include Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), and Roman legionnaire Octavius (Steve Coogan). Debuting are a number of Smithsonian exhibits, especially spunky Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), who provides a romantic interest for Larry; General Custer (Bill Hader), whose arrogance will delight those nostalgic for Bush-era military policy; Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), and Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat). Much is made of Napoleon's complex about his height, yet he's usually photographed to look almost as tall as anyone else, except the giant statue of Lincoln from his memorial.
Cameos include Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!), who wrote both Museum films, as the Wright Brothers; Shawn Levy, who directed both, as a dad in the opening infomercial; and the voices of Eugene Levy as Albert Einstein and the Jonas Brothers as cherubs.
For the less historically inclined, the Smithsonian is shown as a treasure trove of pop culture, with Archie Bunker's chair, Dorothy's ruby slippers, and characters from Sesame Street and Star Wars.
The humor is all over the map, from ridiculous silliness to witty satire, with some of the best gags being throwaways. There may be slow spots, but there's enough action to keep young viewers from getting restless for long. They may even be inspired to go home and Google Al Capone to learn more about him, if they don't run to the local art museum to see what Rodin did besides "The Thinker."
Familiarity keeps the second Museum from being as good as the first. A certain laziness has set in– the "if one Capuchin monkey is funny, then two will be funnier" syndrome– and even Stiller doesn't seem to be trying as hard. But fortunately for him– and us– he doesn't have to try hard to be funny.