DVD review: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Two things may confuse you when pondering a purchase or rental of Fox’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. First, it made $177 million domestically in theaters, but second, critics loathed it.

Whom to believe, critics or the ticket-buying public? Both, as it turns out, since Museum 2 is a distinctly mixed bag, awash in remarkable special-effects creativity, but floundering in a soggy script which vaults beyond the bounds of even remote credibility and lacks a steady stream of worthy one-liners.

Ben Stiller returns, morphed from his first-film role as night guard at the New York Museum of Natural History to his new riches and flimsy fame as shameless inventor/TV pitchman for minor-league products that have made him wealthy on the outside and soulless on the inside. (Don’t you love how wealthy Hollywood types, who demand many millions per role, ceaselessly remind us that it’s what’s inside that counts?)

His motley pals at the museum, who magically transform at night from history exhibits into living beings, are being shipped into the archival belly of DC’s Smithsonian, and Stiller suddenly feels he must protect them. So it’s off to DC for more wild adventures.

Stiller is not the most sympathetic of heroes, and we see the wonderful Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt only fleetingly (though look for his Smithsonian incarnation–as an armless bust–in great footage for the DVD’s gag reel).

We’re also offered Jonah Hill in an uncredited role as a rival museum guard who needlessly berates Stiller in an unhinged orgy of petty confrontation. It’s supposed to be a show-stealing scene, and even gets expanded in the deleted scenes segment. But it’s just not that funny.

No, the true show stealer here — beyond the marvelous giant squids and space monkeys and walking, talking Abe Lincoln statue — is Amy Adams as Emelia Earheart, a spunky woman out of time who teaches Stiller a thing or two about a truly intrepid spirit. He doesn’t deserve her, but we’ll take her — she brightens up the film.

Hank Azaria also has moments as the delusionally imperious ancient Egyptian bad guy, who talks like Boris Karloff with a speech impediment. (That’s also Azaria as Abe Lincoln and Rodin’s the Thinker). And it’s good to see the spritely old-timers from the 2006 first film (Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs) in a cameo.

Don’t expect much plotwise, and you’ll be entertained — by the SPFX alone, in fact. Needing meat on the bones of your comedy skeleton? You may fare no better than watching the T-Rex’s exhibit bones act like an eager dog. But for undemanding family fun, you could do far worse. Besides, anything that stirs kids to visit museums is a good thing.

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