Film review – Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)

For the new Night at the Museum film (again directed by Shawn Levy who also produced) Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) is reunited with his previous co-stars for another adventure involving museum exhibitions coming to life from sunset to sunrise. Since the previous film Larry Daley (Stiller) has left his night guard job at the New York Museum of Natural History to become a highly successful inventor and infomercial host. The museum’s exhibits, who are also Larry’s now neglected friends, are now being boxed up and sent into storage in Washington DC’s massive Smithsonian Institution complex. However, upon arrival the New York exhibits encounter significant hostilities, forcing Larry to go to Washington, adopt the night guard uniform once again and infiltrate the Smithsonian in order to rescue his friends. The result is a wonderfully fun and feel-good family film that perfectly continues the spirit of the original film but ups the ante with more characters, more conceits (paintings, photographs and historical monuments also come to life in this new film) and more exhibits to explore in the various buildings that house the incredible Smithsonian collection.

Impressively Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian establishes back-story and exposition very quickly and seamlessly so that it doesn’t take too long to cut to the laughs and to the action. It’s a tightly written film that allows all the set pieces and gags to flow into each other while still allowing room for the various comedic actors to strut their stuff. Stiller is in top form once again and a who’s-who of current comedic actors play many of the other parts, including Bill Hader (Tropic Thunder, Superbad) as General “We don’t plan – we do!” Custer and Jonah Hill (Superbad, Knocked Up), who almost steals the entire film in his one scene as another museum guard.

Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams)

Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams)

Hank Azaria (Run, Fat Boy, various voices on The Simpsons) as the evil Egyptian ruler Kahmunrah is terrific and makes full use of the gag where in between making doom laden pronouncements about world-domination he converses in casual and often petty modern day conversations. Amy Adams (Doubt, Enchanted) also shines as Amelia Earhart, giving the 1930s aviation icon the perfect Katherine Hepburn-like blend of charisma, class and wit. While many of the actors from the original film do have a reduced role in this new film, Owen Wilson (Marley & Me, The Darjeeling Limited) as the miniature cowboy Jedediah and Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder, Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story) as the miniature Roman General Octavius are back to play a significant part in this new film. Once former enemies, the man-love between the pair is both very sweet and very funny.

Hollywood often produces some of its best escapist films during periods of economic uncertainty and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian certainly delivers the goods. It makes history fun, celebrates people with a passion for adventure and delivers the simple message that happiness is not found in a job that makes you lots of money but in doing something that you love. The combination of wonder, excitement and humour in this film is very much welcome.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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