Night At The Museum 2: Battle Of The Smithsonian Review

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Ex-museum guard Larry (Stiller) is now a successful inventor, but misses his friends among the exhibits at the Museum Of Natural History. When they’re shipped to the Smithsonian, he must follow before all hell breaks loose.


Some comedy films — Big, for example — are carefully crafted to ensure that every joke hits home. Others throw everything at the screen and see what sticks, and it’s into this latter category that Night At The Museum 2 largely falls. There’s no question of the talent involved — the star-wattage could light whole countries — but while the galloping pace ensures it’s better than its predecessor by some margin, it’s still a disappointment given its potential.

The plot this time sees Stiller transformed from under- to overachiever, but less happy than ever, having abandoned the friends he made among the exhibits at New York’s Museum Of Natural History. Most of those — Owen Wilson’s tiny cowboy, Steve Coogan’s tiny Centurion included — are about to be sent for storage in Washington’s Smithsonian, but when the tablet that animates them is included in the delivery, bringing all the exhibits in the Smithsonian to life, things get complicated. Evil Egyptian pharaoh Kamunrah (Hank Azaria) is intent on using it to release an undead army and conquer the world. It’s up to Stiller to stop him.

The presence of a decent bad guy with an actual plan immediately puts this a level above its predecessor: this film doesn’t simply rely on the ‘look, Ma!’ novelty of museum exhibits coming to life in the form of A-list comedy actors. And Azaria’s lisping villain is an impressive comedy creation, both mincing and menacing, even if he is occasionally overindulged. The other standout is Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart, determinedly stepping up alongside the boys, even though Stiller’s apparent lack of interest cripples their romantic subplot.

But as the film is racing by, much of the entertainment comes from cameo-spotting. Jonah Hill is easy, but Jay Baruchel, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest and the Jonas boys all feature, and the wittiest cameo sees Clint Howard nod to his Apollo 13 role as a Mission Control specialist. Not all the gags hit, by any means, but they fly thick and fast.

It’s just a shame that a franchise rife with the potential for family-friendly historical humour — smart little nods to the Napoleon complex and Custer’s (Bill Hader) appalling war record notwithstanding — so frequently defaults to monkey-slapping and pop-culture gags. Still, this is a bigger and better night out than the first.

It’s funnier this time, but still veers noticeably from kid-friendly slapstick to adult-friendly banter.