- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

Once upon a time, the exhibits within the museum at which Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) worked as a night guard came to life. Whacky adventures ensued, Larry was slapped in the face by a monkey and learned the value of finding meaningful work and good friends. The end.

Or not. “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” brings the same basic template to the nation’s capital, as Larry is forced to travel here to save the friends he has abandoned. Since the last movie, Larry has become a successful inventor who hawks his cheesy wares — including a glow-in-the-dark flashlight — on a series of infomercials.

Though financially successful, Larry feels emotionally hollow and takes a trip back to his old haunt to re-connect with his friends, the exhibits. Unfortunately, his pals — historical figures including Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), the cowboy Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) and Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck) — are in no mood to chat, as the exhibit is being packed up and sent to cold storage in the archives beneath the Smithsonian Institution.

This time around, Larry will learn the value of finding good friendships and meaningful work while getting slapped in the face by a monkey — but this time it all happens at the Smithsonian (along with a fictional art gallery and the Lincoln Memorial).

There’s a formula at play here, and if the first movie in the series was any indication, it works: “Night at the Museum” grossed a quarter-billion dollars domestically and even more overseas. Children will be amused by the slapstick and the fast-talking Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), who peppers her dialogue with boffo bons mots.

It’s a pretty dry affair for the adults in the audience, however: Co-writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant don’t give the over-18 contingent much to work with. Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” is reduced to a cotton-mouthed moron (funny, I suppose, because he’s the world’s most renowned symbol of contemplative thought), while Albert Einstein bobble-heads are content to sing KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It)” in an ever-so-cute Einsteinian intonation.

Hank Azaria plays the reanimated Kahmunrah, an evil Egyptian pharaoh who teams up with Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest) to open the gates of the underworld and take over the … well, the museum, I guess. It would be kind of difficult to take over the world when you and your cronies revert to lifeless museum exhibits every dawn, wouldn’t it?

The rest of the ensemble cast can be quite funny, to the point where they almost seem wasted. The funniest scene in the entire movie is a three-minute improv confrontation between Larry and a Smithsonian guard played by Jonah Hill (“Superbad,” “Knocked Up”), after which Mr. Hill’s character disappears. One wonders if director Shawn Levy was more interested in cramming special effects into the movie than creating actual comedy.

★★

TITLE: “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”

RATING: PG (Mild action and brief language)

CREDITS: Directed by Shawn Levy, written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.nightatthemuseummovie.com/

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