With its savvy mix of kid-friendly special effects and parent-friendly comedy, Night at the Museum became a box office smash. Sadly, the uninspired sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, manages to offer fewer joys on either of those fronts.
Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, who has left his night watchman gig at the Natural History Museum to become the CEO of a successful company that sells his quirky inventions, such as a glow-in-the-dark flashlight. On a return visit to the museum, he learns that most of the exhibits are being shipped to deep storage at the Smithsonian. This news disappoints his young son, but not until Larry gets an alarming call from miniature cowboy Jed (Owen Wilson) does he set off to help his old friends who are engaged in a battle with the ancient leader Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) who – thanks to the magical tablet from the first movie – has sprung back to life with a thirst for world domination.
What follows is a collection of loud, mostly pointless effects sequences occasionally offset by a laugh, often thanks to Azaria, a master of comic timing. His grandiose, yet slightly fey bad guy is equally funny when he's chewing out minions as he is when deliberating if Oscar the Grouch and Darth Vader are evil enough to join his team.
Without Azaria's comedic gifts, the movie would be close to unendurable since Larry is utterly blase about the spectacular events going on around him. There is no sense of wonder or amazement in our hero, not even when The Lincoln Memorial comes back to life; it's just another obstacle for him to overcome on his adventure. And since Larry is our guide into this magical realm, his failure to stop and go "WOW!" drains the wonder and fun right out of the movie. Sure, there are some funny moments in Battle of the Smithsonian, but without that sense of childhood glee, the whole thing becomes nothing more than a stale, would-be summer blockbuster, devoid of the playful innocence that made the first one so appealing. leave a comment --Perry Seibert