Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG) *

Ben Stiller returns as heroic museum guard Larry Daley.

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

Even Ben Stiller looks bored out of his mind in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and he got paid several million dollars to star in it. Sitting through the movie puts you in a similar state, except you’re the one paying the money.

Not that we’re singling out Stiller. Pretty much no one involved with this listless, rote sequel to the 2006 smash hit seems to have put much effort into it. After all, the original made half a billion dollars at the box office the world over. With numbers like that, a built-in audience for a sequel is guaranteed to line up on opening weekend.

So screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon didn’t think too long to come up with a premise for the new movie: They just take the original story and tell it again, transplanting it from New York’s Museum of Natural History to Washington, D.C., with practically the same baddie: The Egyptian dictator Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), the older brother of the first film’s villain, who shares the same dream of world domination.

Returning director Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther, Just Married, Cheaper by the Dozen), the sort of filmmaker who put the hack in hackwork, lets the special-effects crew take over the show, giving them lots of new wax figures and museum displays to animate, including a giant octopus and a giant Abraham Lincoln statue. New to the ensemble of magic: Napoleon Bonaparte (Alan Chabat) and Ivan the Terrible (a wasted Christopher Guest), who prefers to be called Ivan the Awesome. No, I did not make that up.

Robin Williams and Ricky Gervais return for extended cameos (Gervais in particular looks embarrassed to be here.) Amy Adams does her best Katharine Hepburn impression as Amelia Earhart: She and Azaria are the only members of the cast who really, really try, to no avail. Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader annoys greatly as General Custer, and Owen Wilson consents to a screen credit this time as the miniature cowboy Jedediah, saddled with such lines as “You’re crazier than a road lizard!”

It takes a village to round up so many talented comedians and give them nothing funny to say or do. Everyone resorts to lazy shtick, perhaps assuming the CGI effects would pick up the slack. Well, they don’t. Even a scene in which Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch attempt to join the bad guys’ team falls flat, because Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian can’t overcome the stench of calculated, for-the-money filmmaking it emanates.

There’s no sense in giving family films a pass just because they’re intended for children. If they could make a good kids’ movie out of Kit Kittredge, then they can make a good kids’ movie out of anything. Whether you’re 6 or 60, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is crap — and it’ll make a gazillion dollars.

Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Owen Wilson, Christopher Guest, Alan Chabat, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais.

Director: Shawn Levy.

Screenwriters: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon.

Producers: Shawn Levy, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: An eternity, plus 105 minutes. Mock violence. Playing at area theaters.


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