Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian

Two years after his fantastical late shift at NYC's Natural History Museum, night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has become an entrepreneur, shilling inventions like his glow-in-the-dark flashlight on TV with George Foreman. After neglecting his friends for a few months, he stops at the museum one night only to discover that all the old exhibits are packed up, being replaced by interactive holograms. With a big meeting at Walmart hanging over his head, Larry gets a call for help from Jedediah (Owen Wilson) en route to the Smithsonian archives in D.C. where Ahkmenrah's evil older brother Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria, "Dodgeball," "Run Fatboy Run") plans to unleash an army from hell. Larry hops a plane to spend his "Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian."

Laura's Review: C

The first museum piece was a big, shiny, by-the-numbers product that occasionally woke one up with an animated T-Rex. Director Shawn Levy ("Big Fat Liar," "Night at the Museum") and his screenwriters Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon ("Night at the Museum," "Balls of Fury") delivered a big, loud holiday movie that made lots of cash but offered little inspiration. The sequel, shifting from Christmas to Memorial Day tentpole, is one of those rare ones that is actually a midge better than its predecessor and could even get kids excited about visiting a museum after seeing how cool one can really be. It's kind of like the movie equivalent of a toddler's busy box. The actual story isn't anything to write home about. Nice jump start with Larry coming from another place in life, but the pressure of the upcoming Walmart pitch is forgotten once Larry's back in the museum game (left to his underling one presumes, played by Ed Helms, the first of three players from "The Office" to show up in cameos). From there, Larry must find a way to get into the secured archive area which he does by getting into a silly argument with a guard played by Jonah Hill ("Superbad") as Brandon, pronounced 'Brundon,' also never seen nor heard from again. Larry begins to search for his friends, but by the time twilight rolls around, they've already been targeted within their crate by Kahmunrah and his men, frozen in place. Kahmunrah proves pretty easy to fool, but when he allies with Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest, "For Your Consideration"), Napoleon (Alain Chabat, "The Taste of Others," "The Science of Sleep") and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal, "World Trade Center"), Larry has one too many fronts to fight with only the addition of General Custer (Bill Hader, "Pineapple Express") to his team. Until that is, he runs into Amelia Earheart (Amy Adams, "Enchanted," "Doubt"). The humor is corny, but the effects come to us in packages that are a little more ingenious this time around, including Einstein bobbleheads from the Air and Space Museum gift shop and exhibits that include photographs (the Eisenstaedt VJ Day), paintings (Grant Woods' "American Gothic") and sculpture (Rodin's The Thinker, a Degas ballerina and a Jeff Koons pink balloon poodle among others). Black and white (Capone and his guys, scenes within the VJ Day picture) is mixed with color. A second Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) is introduced as a bronze bust and, for some reason, the underground magic extends to Abraham Lincoln over at the Lincoln Memorial. A trio of cherubs (the Jonas Brothers) flit about, always ready with a romantic ditty for Larry and Amelia. A leviathan octopus takes the place of T-Rex, acting equally puppyish when wet. There are also appearances from Darth Vader, Oscar the Grouch and Clint Howard (Ron Howard's "Apollo 13") as an Air and Space Mission Control Tech. Most of the new characters make little impression, but Amy Adams is always a plus, here flummoxing Larry with the lingo of her day ('You've lost your moxie!'), and Hank Azaria is a hoot playing a dead mummy with the lisping Brit of Boris Karloff (he also voices a 'Deese, dem dose' accent for The Thinker and plays Honest Abe). Most of the old crew are left to react to Custer's bad ideas with the exception of Wilson, trapped in an hourglass by Kahmunrah. Steve Coogan's Octavius is the most fun, proving that big surprises can come in small packages. "Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian" is most notable for the inventive new touches added which prove amusing diversions to the dull central throughline. It's an improvement on the original and, thankfully, the filmmakers seem to have painted themselves into a corner with their denouement. Watch for a quick gag right as the closing credits begin involving Jay Baruchel's ("Tropic Thunder") VJ Day sailor.

Robin's Review: DNS