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Poorly manufactured sequel that stays bearable with a few good characters
The first "Night at the Museum" worked despite conventions for a few reasons, but the main one was that it eased into its premise of museum exhibits coming to life and didn't take it for granted like "Night of the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian" does. I'm actually surprised the writers of the first film wrote this sequel, because Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant handle these characters like they're someone else's creation and they can butcher them all they want.
"Night at the Museum 2" sucks the magic out of the original and overdoses on characters as well as meandering sarcasm and awkward humor. Save some bright spots in character acting from a delightful and plucky Amy Adams and some bright spots from Hank Azaria and Christopher Guest, "Smithsonian" will disappoint most defenders of the first film -- except kids and anyone else who'll bite on an outrageous premise.
Ben Stiller stars again as Larry Daley, only our beloved night security guard has randomly become a mastermind of As Seen on TV products. That decision alone completely destroys the continuity between this film and the last, forcing Larry's story to be something totally different than the single dad trying to be a role model for his son. Now son is hacking into the Smithsonian Institute floor plans to direct his dad to the location of the tablet that brings things to life at night. See the Museum of Natural History is going digital and all the beloved characters of the first film are shipped to the national archives in DC, only that naughty monkey brought the tablet with him and so the Smithsonian has come to life.
Our source of conflict is the Pharaoh at the Smithsonian, Kahmunrah, played by Azaria doing his best Stewie Griffin impression, who wants the tablet to unleash his army, so he gets help from Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible (Guest) and young Al Capone. At least director Shawn Levy realized the asset they had in Azaria and had him voice a couple other key statues that come to life later on. Azaria's too good for this film, really, but he plays at its level instead of pushing it and even manages a few of the better laughs when he puts a major diss on Darth Vader.
Then there's Amy Adams, the lone diamond in a sea of forced comedy and excessive cameos. It might seem like loving Adams is the "it" thing, but she brings the imaginative spirit sorely lacking in the film as Amelia Earheart. Every time she speaks it literally feels like the film gets more believable because she's such a convincing spirit. She also gets to work her best Katherine Hepburn impression to boot.
But "Smithsonian" is more defined by its disappointments and synthetic sequel material. Lennon and Garant try and include too many characters between the old ones and the new ones and the film just feels chaotic. It's like a contest to see how many new ideas of different things they can bring to life from paintings and photos on the wall to historical monuments in DC.
Worst of all, it's completely rushed. Understood that we get the coming-to-life premise and we aren't going to be surprised by it, but they take all the fun out of it. Levy figures a shot a piece of the statues of Amelia and Bill Hader's Col. Custer are adequate foreshadow, but they're not. Daley just cons his way into the archives and the story rockets right into the Smithsonian with a few quick facts about what it is to provide context.
"Night at the Museum 2" does just about everything we used to be terrified of sequels doing in the '90s -- overdoing it and diverting from the core values that won some love for the original because that film wasn't just about things coming to life.
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