Saturday, May 23, 2009

Night At The Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

The first Night at the Museum movie was a rather pleasant surprise for me and The Boy, who were there at the behest of The Flower. It struck a nice balance between silly comedy and (slightly) less silly stuff aided greatly by Alan Silvestri's score, which also helps this movie not degenerate into random-feeling chaos.

What? You didn't expect me to start with the score? In this case, it's absolutely necessary. The score sets the tone as more light adventure than wacky randomity, even though this movie is a lot more random and chaotic than the first.

And, it must be admitted, quite a bit more leaden. Somewhat ironically, The Boy and I enjoyed it more than The Flower did, who had higher expectations and found it predictable. I suspect this spells trouble for the movie, if the eight-year-old girl demo is finding it predictable.

And it's not that they didn't try. There are a few twists and wrinkles, and a few new bits, but a lot of these flat flat. Meanwhile, a lot of the best stuff is recycled stuff from the previous movie that still works. (A lot of humor based on the diminutive cowboy Jedediah, played by Owen Wilson, and Roman Centurion Octavius, played by Steve Coogan, e.g.) Also, this movie suffers from 70% less Robin Williams, so it's got that going for it.

Actually, the level of talent oozing from this film makes you really want it to be better. Hank Azaria plays Ahkmenrah's (from the first movie) evil brother with a lispy Boris Karloff accent. Bill Hader shows up as General Custer. Christopher Guest is Ivan the Terrible. And they're all good, as they always are. Ben Stiller gives his all, like he always does. He has a bit with Jonah Hill that's very Apatow-ish (clean, but goofy).

Basically, though, the funny's just not there. Things that should've been funny weren't. The lightness from the original movie is mostly gone. Not content-wise. This pretty much could be "G"-rated; Im' hard pressed to remember what might have pushed it over the line to "PG". But delivery-wise. There's too much self-awareness, too much "look at this, isn't this hilarious!" going on.

The original walked that line mostly successfully. This one not so much.

Buoying the movie impossibly is perennial Maelstrom crush, Amy Adams. She plays a delightfully heterosexual Amelia Earhart, as a sort of mix of Katharine Hepburn and Betty Hutton. Carla Gugino and her tight sweaters are gone without notice from this movie, to be replaced by Amy Adams in her tight pants (and remarkably fitted aviator jacket).

But more than eye-candy, Adams brings a much-needed unselfconscious lightness to the proceedings. At the same time, I did find myself thinking "They must have spent a freakin' fortune on this movie." In other words, where the first movie seemed like a shallow "high concept" ultra-slick Stiller vehicle, but managed to hide the gears pretty well, this movie ends up feeling a lot more transparent and cynical.

I didn't actually dislike it. It's not overlong. It doesn't try to be important or relevant. It's not vulgar or crass. It just doesn't have the finesse of the first one, which underscores the fundamentally unclever nature of both movies.

Again, The Flower was disappointed, finding it not at all surprising. Part of that, of course, may be that she was five-and-a-half when the last movie came out and is eight now. I would say that if you're interested in seeing it, and don't have high expectations, see it in the theater. Because I suspect that the movies' problems are going to be magnified on the small screen.

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