Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian review

More late-night magical mayhem for Stiller and company - but is the magic really still there…?

In this sequel to the saga, former magical-museum night guard Larry (Ben Stiller) faces an epic battle to save his unlikely friends – big and small – from what could be their last stand amid the wonders of the Smithsonian…that have suddenly awaken and now have a mind all of their own.

Larry seems to have it all, he has since left behind the low-paying world of guarding museums to become a sought-after inventor. But something is missing in his life, drawing him back to his old haunt at the Museum of Natural History, where he makes an amazing discovery: his favourite friends have been deemed out-of-date…

Packed into crates, they await shipment to the vast archives of the Smithsonian Museum, their fate unknown, until Larry receives a distress call from the miniature cowboy “Jedediah” (Owen Wilson), who informs him of an impending disaster. It seems that the newcomers have awoken in the new museum and evoked the wrath of the evil Egyptian ruler, “Kahmunrah” (Hank Azaria), who’s in a particularly nasty mood after 3,000 years of sleep!

Now, he and a trio of history’s most heinous henchmen including “Ivan the Terrible” (Christopher Guest), “Napoleon Bonaparte” (Alain Chabat) and “Al Capone” (Jon Bernthal) are plotting to take over the museum (and then the world), as they plan to unleash the “Army of the Underworld”.

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Speeding to the nation’s capital, and with the help of his son, Larry is clearly in over his head. But he’s got some new friends to help him including Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and the one exhibit that tugs at his heartstrings, the beautiful Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), who makes Larry rediscover his sense of fun and adventure. Along with his old friends including Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila The Hun (Patrick Gallagher) and not forgetting the “Neanderthals”, Larry will stop at nothing to regain his friends and restore order to the Smithsonian…

Shawn Levy retakes the helm for this sequel to his 2007 hit, but this film fails to measure up to the first movie, falling into the ranks of lazy comedy defined in recent years by such efforts as Meet The Spartans, Date Movie and Superhero Movie (which I loosely term the best of the bunch); all films which think they are hilariously funny when in fact they aren’t. Sadly, Smithsonian falls into that category.

I came to Smithsonian with fondness for the original and high hopes for the sequel, and – in fact – I really wanted to love it. Unfortunately it fails on so many levels, not least of which is that it arrives on a raft of uninspired and embarrassing jokes delivered by a cast that might have thought better before adding their own star-power to a script this poor. A great cast is wasted here, but most especially the multi-talented Hank Azaria, who plays the evil Kahmunrah. Night At The Museum writer Robert Ben Garant takes returns with Thomas Lennon to pen this sequel, but to far less effect than its predecessor, and totally misses the mark.

Ben Stiller does his usual “man looking bewildered”, improv-style schtick that we are all very familiar with by now, but I found it hard to believe that his character could even become a convincing force as a night watchmen, never mind a self-made multi-millionaire inventor. Of course Stiller does his best to entertain us (which occasionally pays off), but it all ends up looking rather tired, as if this was purely a money gig for him, and he doesn’t even seem to be enjoying himself. Well, we both had something in common there, then.

Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan (who play two of my favourite characters from the previous movie), both return as Jedediah the Cowboy and Octavius the Roman Centurion, but here they are reduced to little more than minor screen-time fodder, as we only get to see the occasional scene with them; and even when we do, it all seems pretty pointless, since neither are provided with any solid material to get their teeth into.

This leads me on to Amy Adams’ Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean. Here I spent most part of the film trying to decipher whether her grating accent was meant to be American or English, as it seemed to morph into both many times.

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All I can say is thank you for Mr Hank Azaria (arguably one of the finest of the current crop of character actors, along with Michael Sheen) for offering something to clutch on to. His portrayal of Kahmunrah is nothing short of amazing. Azaria  gives his character that ‘old school’ edge by imitating one of the great horror actors of 20th Century cinema, Boris Karloff (the definitive “Frankenstein monster”  in the James Whale 1932 production, a role that was originally offered to and turned down by Bela Lugosi). Azaria steals all of his scenes wholesale, and has great chemistry with Stiller in their scenes together. Check out the ‘personal space’ scene for evidence of this. Even here, sadly, Stiller just looked as though he had something far better to do with his time.

Reliable scene stealer Robin Williams (reprising the Teddy Roosevelt role from the original) fails to provide his usual comic genius, except in one or two brief flashes of brilliance, such as his outraged realisation that there is another ‘version’ of himself in another museum.

The supporting cast includes Bill Hader as General Custer, who has an inferiority complex due to his disappointment at forever being remembered for his “Last Stand” at the Battle Of Little Big Horn. I wanted to see more of him, but I got less. Then there is Jon Bernthal playing American gangster Al Capone, in black and white to boot – a nice touch, admittedly. Christopher Guest’s turn as Ivan The Terrible finds one of America’s finest comedians reduced to nothing more than a bit part. They may as well have hired him as an extra to be honest. What a total waste.

These supporting actors deserved better, but what Levy, Lennon and Garant have given them to work with is nothing short of disappointing.

Oh, and we can’t forget Ricky Gervais, who makes another appearance in (literally) a couple of scenes. A ‘walk-on’ here as in the original, he doesn’t really give a performance worthy of note; in fact it’s just Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais in a suit again. But like everyone else (with the exception of Stiller and Adams), you have to forgive him, as there is really no scope in the script for any of them to shine.

This movie lacks originality, humour and even any hint of a personality.

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The two cute little monkeys (played here by the same “female” primate), had the right idea when they both repeatedly slap Mr Stiller in the face towards the end of the movie (I would have gladly joined them, if only for having had just over an hour and forty minutes of my life wasted). But even that scene is a re-heat from the original.

Smithsonian is squarely aimed at a family audience, so if you’re a kid, you’ll no doubt love the odd eccentricities in this film, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton (who once again makes an appearance, but – like all the other characters from the previous movie – only briefly).

Sadly, this is a cynical sequel of the kind we both fear and expect, and one that marks the low point of the summer season thus far.

Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian is on general release from 20th May.


1 out of 5