A funny thing happened on my way to the expected thrashing of "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
Oh, and Amy Adams.
Funnyman Williams and Adams, the actress who seemingly elevates every film she's in, combine to raise this film above the rest of this weekend's opening dreck, "Terminator Salvation" and the so awful I even hate to mention "Dance Flick."
So, this begs the question "Is "Night at the Museum 2" really better than the original, a film I thoroughly and gleefully trashed?
I hated "Night at the Museum," an imaginative kaleidoscope of nothingness that distracted audiences with its dizzying array of special effects.
"Night at the Museum 2" feels like a rehash that has almost no reason whatsoever to exist. Stiller is back as Larry Daley, however, this time around he's become a successful home security inventor with his own infomercial. After learning from his former boss (Ricky Gervais) that the old museum's exhibits are being shipped off into oblivion at the Smithsonian to make way for way cooler holographic presentations, Daley springs into action.
Okay, actually Daley springs into jokes.
Some of them actually funny.
As is virtually always true when a special effects laden original becomes a box-office success, "Night at the Museum 2" contains even more special effects, celebrity cameos and characters.
Oh my, the characters.
Hmmmm. We start off with a George Foreman cameo.
Then, we have a pharaoh aiming for world domination (Hank Azaria, who also voices Abraham Lincoln and a couple other characters).
Then, there's Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest). Ivan's character is, indeed, terrible and without a single laugh.
Napoleon is here (Alain Chabat), along with General Custer (Bill Hader), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) and the aforementioned Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. Then, of course, the regulars return including Octavius (Steve Coogan), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson).
There are others. Trust me. There are others.
Despite the monstrously increased payday for returning for "Night at the Museum 2," Stiller seems remarkably bored and uninvolved here. Indeed, much like Bale's fate in "Terminator Salvation," Ben Stiller is not the star of his own movie.
Amy Adams is, quite clearly, the redeeming feature of "Night at the Museum 2," and Robin Williams is easily the film's comic tour-de-force.
"Night at the Museum 2" improves dramatically, or comically I should say, virtually every time Adams is onscreen despite Adams being resigned to dialogue that would sink nearly any other actress. Adams is funny, charming, romantic and sweet in a film that desperately needs anything resembling an honest emotion (Of course, one could argue that Earhart was said to be none of these things but the entertainment factor is worth the historical inaccuracy).
Robin Williams, as well, explodes every single time he's onscreen in a performance with even more spark and humor than in the original.
Unfortunately, others in the cast don't fare as well. Christopher Guest and Bill Hader are completely wasted, while the conflict between Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan expectedly lacks the freshness and spontaneity from "Night at the Museum."
The simple truth is that, while "Night at the Museum 2" still doesn't quite garner a recommendation from this critic, if you enjoyed the original you'll likely enjoy this faster paced, sillier and family friendly sequel. Young children are likely to be enchanted by the outlandish special effects and museum features come to life, while Levy's "throw it at the screen" approach to film making practically guarantees that at least some of the jokes are going to stick.
Is "Night at the Museum 2" truly better than its predecessor?
No, not really. It's practically the same film all over again with the welcome addition of a sparkling Amy Adams and an even larger than life performance from Robin Williams.
Same Film...even funnier.
That sums up "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic