Here's to the night we felt alive ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Here's to the night we felt alive

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian
My rating:

I didn't catch the first Night at the Museum. Never struck me as something worth watching. The premise sounded lame - museum exhibits come to life, terrorize Ben Stiller. And then what? What is Stiller supposed to do besides get freaked out by one thing after another? I'm sure the movie itself would answer that question, but I just couldn't be arsed to actually watch it - and I'm still not. Same goes for this sequel - I wouldn't even be watching it if I didn't have this blog to write.

So here's to having low expectations. It does make a movie better... somewhat.

Larry Daley is now a successful businessman and inventor of dubiously useful gadgets. When he visits his former workplace, the Museum of Natural History, for the first time in two years, he learns that the exhibits - his friends - are being packed up and shipped to the Smithsonian archives for storage. Unfortunately, the magical tablet that brings them to life at night went with them, and one of the newly-awakened historical figures there is the Pharaoh Kahmunrah - who has a plan to conquer the world using hitherto-unknown powers of the tablet. As Kahmunrah recruits Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte and Al Capone as his minions, Larry also finds a new ally in Amelia Earhart.

So there's an actual plot in this movie this time - a villain must be stopped, and a Macguffin must be kept from him. But it's really just an excuse to string a bunch of action and comic setpieces together, not all of which work. Most of the ones that do work are the comic ones - and that right there is the biggest problem with this movie. It's ostensibly a family-oriented comedy action-adventure - but the action-adventure part of it is pretty lame.

Here's an example: true to the film's subtitle, it climaxes with a big battle between the forces of good and evil. This should be a rousing action scene, with combatants from all over history duking it out - medieval knights, 1930s gangsters, Mongol warriors - plus a few statues come to life and a giant octopus. But instead, the battle goes on in the background while Larry has a heart-to-heart with a cowardly General Custer. Then he has a Three Stooges-inspired slapstick scene with two monkeys. And all this time there's an action scene going on, but this movie just doesn't seem interested in showing it to us. It really squanders its opportunity to provide us with some thrills to go along with the laughs.

And how about those laughs? Well... I did LOL a couple of times. I thought the few glimpses of Larry's ninja night guard skills were pretty funny. But overall, it's generally quite lazy with it's humour - for a comedy, it never really tries for a good gut-busting guffaw. Some of the living exhibits are quite clever, and good for a giggle, but giggle is all you'll do. If it's not really funny, it needs to be exciting - if it's not exciting, it needs to be really funny. It's just not much of either.

Stiller has to take some of the blame for this. He's dull; he just never seems to get really involved in any of the proceedings. I can't imagine he was like this in the original film - granted, he's less freaked out by living museum exhibits by now, but his wooden expression is a large part of why none of the action scenes work. Amy Adams is a terrific actor, and she breathes life and spunk into Amelia Earhart - but she's also supposed to have a romance with Stiller, who barely seems interested. (Oh, and the denouement of their romance subplot is so hackneyed. Can't believe anyone thinks that sort of thing still works.) Hank Azaria hams it up as the villain, and does an adequate job - he's funny, just never really funny.

On the whole, it's just an unremarkable, unambitious, fitfully entertaining movie. Never as funny as it could have been, not as clever as it could have been, nowhere near as thrilling as it should have been. Only my low expectations kept me from giving this a 2-star rating. But should I not expect more? Is it unfair of me to think a movie like this should be better? I don't think so. Comedies should be funnier, and action-adventures should be more fun - and the family-friendliness should be no excuse to not try hard enough.

NEXT REVIEW: Terminator: Salvation
Anticipation level: let's see if that "low expectations" thing works again