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Larry Daley is finally a success.  He’s come a long way from struggling to provide for his young son by working as a night watchman in New York’s Museum of Natural History, to rolling in dough as a Ron Popeil-style inventions entrepreneur.  The trade-off is Larry is now so busy, he hasn’t got time to have a sit-down dinner with his boy, or stay in touch with the ones who inspired him to go for his big dreams in the first place.  While Larry was a museum guard, he discovered a mystical Egyptian tablet that brought all the exhibits inside to life.  Everything from the skeleton of the T-Rex and looming Easter Island figure, the wax figures of Theodore Roosevelt, Pocahontas and Attila the Hun and the miniatures in the Wild West and Ancient Rome displays got up and walked around the galleries the minute the sun went down.  Larry became their friend and protector, but as his new career took over more of his time, his petrified friends faded into the background.  When Larry finally does come to visit, it is only in time to discover the exhibits are about to be shifted out of the Museum of Natural History, to be stocked away and archived in Washington D.C.’s sprawling Smithsonian Museum.  Larry sets off to rescue his friends and save the mystical tablet once more, but not before he discovers the tablet works equally well in D.C. as it did in NYC.

One of Larry’s first allies in his battle to keep the tablet from an evil Egyptian pharaoh is Amelia Earhart, the iconic aviatrix full of the pluck and can-do spirit that made her famous.  While the duo is pursued around the museum’s many galleries, they discover the ability to pop in and out of famous artwork; at one point trading full-colour Washington D.C. 2009 for black and white 1945 Times Square via Eisenstaedt’s famous victory kiss photo.  They dodge giant squids and pterodactyls, try brainstorming with Rodin’s Thinker, twirl with Degas’ fourteen-year-old dancer and glean wisdom from Abe Lincoln himself.  The mixture of history, art and pop culture is pretty ingenious and works wonderfully to keep the grown-ups as enchanted as the little ones.  As an art fiend, I was tickled to watch Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog bouncing around the galleries, a Roy Lichtenstein Benday Dot heroine bravely wiping away a tear, and the counterman from Hopper’s Nighthawks serving his late night guests.  The Tuskegee Airmen have a tête-à-tête with the feisty Miss Earhart before assisting her and Larry’s escape from the Air and Space Museum on the Wright brothers’ flyer.  Exposing all the brilliance the Smithsonian has to offer is sure to pique kids’ interest in those subjects shown here, as well as raise visitor numbers for the Smithsonian.

Ben Stiller does a nice reprise of his role as Larry, and the returning cast from the first film includes Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wilson as Jed the cowboy and Steve Coogan as Octavius the centurion.  The sequel’s cast is even better this time around, leading with a standout performance by Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart.  In her curly, cropped bob and fabulously tailored jodhpurs, Adams captures the aviatrix’s flapperish spunk, which, despite some slightly dated lingo, fits nicely in these modern times.  Earhart’s joie de vivre is contagious and soon even distracted workaholic Larry questions why he’s gotten so far out of touch and lost his “moxie.”  Adams is so charming as the flight pioneer that I hope some wise studio gets it in their head to do an Earhart biopic starring the bright-eyed actress, stat.  As for the other Museum newbies, Hank Azaria steals his scenes as the lisping pharaoh Kahmunrah, and Larry impresses rival guard Jonah Hill with some night watchman ninjitsu.  Bill Hader puts in a fizzy performance as a vainglorious and awfully dumb General Custer, who still hasn’t got the whole surprise attack thing down.  Even the voice acting is pretty sweet, including Eugene Levy as a series of bobble-head Albert Einstein toys that brilliantly deduce the key to using the Egyptian tablet.  Larry and Amelia are serenaded by a trio of Italian putti, who look and sound an awful lot like the Jonas Brothers (- I really hope they record More Than a Woman for the soundtrack.).  In my favourite moment from the film, two other famous “bad guy” Smithsonian tenants attempt to join Kahmunrah’s gang, and I won’t spoil it too much other than to say that a guy who’s usually in a big fluffy yellow suit provides the voice for one, and surprisingly, James Earl Jones does not provide the voice of the other.  The only sour notes are Christopher Guest’s redoubtable talents being pretty much frittered away as Ivan the Terrible, and Owen Wilson’s and Steve Coogan’s freestyle riffing sounding ill-timed and awkwardly unfunny.  As if to make up for those flat moments, we are given a hilarious 300-esque battle for the tiny twosome that changes the entire face (sole?) of the war inside the museum.

Far more engaging and better-paced than its predecessor, director Shawn Levy finds the formula to enchant both kids and their parents.  This time, taking place in the world’s largest repository of history, art and pop culture, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian ups the ante on all sides to deliver a delightfully fun family film.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 22nd, 2009








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