Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (***)

Posted on May 25th, 2009 in Commentary,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Honest(ly huge) Abe

Honest(ly huge) Abe

We had never seen the first movie in this series, Night at the Museum, but ended up watching it a couple of days before going to see the new installment, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.  We found the first movie to be enjoyable and forgettable, but funny enough that we decided to go out and see the sequel this weekend.

Battle of the Smithsonian is, quite enjoyably, more of the same, but on a larger scale.  Many of the familiar characters from the first film are back again, and a host of new characters are added.  Also, this film takes place across the campus of the Smithsonian museum buildings, and makes sure to pull some of the personality of the museum itself into the mix.  Smithsonian isn’t trying to hide a history lesson inside a Ben Stiller action-comedy, far from it.  There are historical references, many of which will fly over the heads of the young target audience, like Sputnik.

For example, at one point in the film a couple of the characters step into the life-size print of the famous Life magazine photo of a returning sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square.  The characters wander around Times Square chased by Egyptian spearmen, and eventually step back into the Smithsonian.  Unfortunately, one of the characters has dropped his cell phone in the crowds, and a young serviceman picks it up and shouts after him that, hey, mister, you dropped your…whatever this thing is.  Later, over the end credits, we see that same young serviceman working at an electronics bench in the 40’s, and his mother calling him to dinner from the other room.  He tells her just a minute, he thinks he’s onto something, and she shouts back with the unbending will of mom’s everywhere and says, “You put down whatever that is and you get in here right this minute, Joey Motorola!”  There was a row of about a dozen 8-10 year old boys sitting in front of us, and they all spun around and stared at us when we cracked up at that line.

There are also Tuskegee airmen, simian astronauts, gangsters, Tsars, emporers, huns, painting subjects, and even NASA mission control techs (played by Clint Howard, who has recognizably played such techs in many other films) that will resonate much more deeply with older audience members, but which also provide an extra layer of humor apart from yet another predictable round of slapping the monkey.

The story of the current installment is that Kahmunrah, the evil older brother Ahkmenrah, has come to steal the magic plate from his younger brother.  The plate is what brings all the museum characters to life between sunset and sunrise each night.  Kahmunrah knows that the plate can be used to summon the army of the dead and allow him to take over both the day and night-time worlds.  It’s up to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and his band of pals to stop him.

Let’s just say that hilarity ensues, some of it juvenile, some of it more refined, some of it falls flat, but overall this is a funny and enjoyable film.  It won’t win any awards for the story or the acting, although it might get some technical awards for the effects, which are beautifully done.  Don’t go in expecting great art or even classic comedy – this film is a fine Memorial Day break, worth the price of a ticket and concessions, and you’ll walk out smiling.

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