Ben Stiller is back as night watchman Larry Daley in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." (Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)
I took my youngest son to see "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." When it was done, he asked why they made this movie. I told him that sequels are made to latch on to the success of the first movie. His thoughts about this movie were that it did not need to be made. Such it is with most sequels.
"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" allows the viewer to see what happened to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) after the first movie. Larry now is a very successful businessman. He is one of those pitchmen you see on late at night selling gadgets in those 30-minute commercials. He still visits the Museum of Natural History, but not as often as his friends there would like. And by friends, I mean the displays that come to life during the night.
As the movie opens we see that the displays from the last movie are being boxed up and sent to the National Archives at the Smithsonian. On that last night, Larry says his goodbyes to those being packed away. It seems that the new demand is for interactive displays and these figures do not fit the bill.
A few days later Larry gets a frantic call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson), the miniature cowboy from one of the museum dioramas, that they are being attacked. Larry goes to the Smithsonian and finds that the displays there are coming alive. Dexter the monkey stole the tablet that made them come to life and now they face a dangerous enemy, Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), brother of the boy pharaoh from the previous movie. Kahmunrah knows the tablet can be used to open the door to the Egyptian underworld. With it he can rule the world.
What follows is the same kind of shenanigans from the other movie. All manner of characters come to life because of the presence of the tablet. Kahmunrah recruits Napoleon (Alain Chabat), Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) to aid him in his quest. It seems that the tablet not only needs to be present, but also there is a combination that must be found. Larry is threatened with the death of Jedediah if he does not find and deliver the code.
Along the way Larry finds Gen. George Armstrong Custer, played by the maniac Bill Hader. But what saves the movie is his partner in the night travels, Amelia Earhart, played by Amy Adams.
What Adams' presence adds to the movie is a sweetness that makes the blandness easier to swallow. She plays Earhart in the grand style of Katherine Hepburn in "Bringing Up Baby" and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." Her line reading harkens back to those screwball comedies of the '30s, and she is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the staleness of the musty old museum air.
There is a nice chemistry here between Adams and Stiller. They work well together in that Stiller does nice deadpan looks while Adams chews up the scenery with her adventure-seeking, catchphrase-spouting ways. This is the salvation of the movie.
Besides this, the rest of the movie falls into the cookie-cutter pattern of the previous movie. There is no new ground explored here and no new themes developed.
To be sure, this is not a bad movie. But it is not a good movie either. It falls somewhere in between. What we are given are two actors playing two roles that rise above the larger context they are thrown in. It is the same "fish out of water" story that we have seen dozens of times. The only thing that is worth note is the future hopes that Adams and Stiller will be given a chance to act again in a better movie.
One final note: my son wanted to see how Oscar the Grouch and Darth Vader would be used in this story. You see these two "bad guys" in the ads for the movie. Sadly, all you see of them is what you are shown in the ads. My son was disappointed.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild action and brief language.
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Cast: Ben Stiller: Larry Daley; Amy Adams: Amelia Earhart; Owen Wilson: Jedediah Smith; Steve Coogan: Octavius; Hank Azaria: Kahmunrah; Bill Hader: General Custer.
The movie's official Web site is here.