Ben Stiller and all of his friends return in a sequel to the imaginative and fun Night at the Museum, which allowed Stiller to dip his toes in the relatively unfamiliar family-entertainment waters. If Stiller and his audience tested the waters with equal trepidation last time, both jump effortlessly this time around as the premise and the jokes are familiar — and still work. Like all sequels, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian doubles down on the familiar, but unlike many sequels, manages to entertain even while pushing the premise to the stretching point.
Fans of the original know that the Tablet of Akhmenrah allows the exhibits in the museum to come to life after dark, but Larry (Stiller) no longer presides over the fun. Instead, his inventions have become highly popular in a Ron Popeil fashion, and he has been gone from the museum for two years, visiting only occasionally. He discovers that most of his nighttime friends will soon get warehoused in the Smithsonian’s underground archives in Washington DC, but that the tablet won’t go with them – dooming them to normal exhibit status. A frantic phone call brings Larry to Washington — but do his friends need Larry’s help, or the other way around? And more than just the people and animals in the exhibits come to life this time.
Most of the original cast return for Battle, and a few more join Stiller. Amy Adams plays Amelia Earhart as a spunky, adventure-seeking woman who sees into Larry’s heart better than Larry himself. Hank Azaria voices two characters and plays Kahmunrah, Akhmenrah’s older black-sheep brother who wants to rule the world — and who holds a rather witty despots’ meeting to arrange it. Christopher Guest is a bit wasted as Ivan the Terrible, Bill Hader has fun as George Custer, and Clint Howard reprises a role from a completely different movie. Judd Apatow’s ensemble members show up for various cameos, too.
Bottom line: if you liked the first movie, as I did, this movie will work for you. If you didn’t like the first movie, you’ll like this one even less. The effects are well done, and it remains a family-friendly franchise, with no cursing, blood, or anything more overtly sexual than a reference to “second base.” Kids will enjoy the film, but the younger ones might get frightened by a couple of intense scenes. The Smithsonian should love this movie; they could hardly have asked for a better advertisement.
Note: I’m still on vacation; the First Mate and I saw this in West Des Moines last night, and I wanted to get the review posted for people who may wonder whether to see this movie over the holiday weekend.