"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

The idea behind the 2006 megahit "Night at the Museum" had enough inherent charm that it was completely possible to look beyond the movie's clunky structure and overly sentimental framing device and just enjoy the ride. Ben Stiller played Larry Daley, a divorced dad who, after failing at numerous other careers (and thus coming to feel he'd become a disappointment to his young son) takes a job as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History in New York, only to find that the exhibits come alive at night. The "father proving his worth to his kid" thing aside, "Night at the Museum" offered numerous delights: A fabulous T. rex skeleton springs into action, an assemblage of playful, shambling bones (his favorite game is fetch); a tiny cowboy (Owen Wilson) and a Roman centurion (Steve Coogan) emerge from their dioramas and proceed to wreak havoc on the place, albeit on a miniaturized scale.

"Night at the Museum," directed by Shawn Levy and written by the writer-actor duo Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, was such a huge hit that a sequel was inevitable. And so we have, from the same director and writers, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," a more expensive, more complicated and more elaborate picture, though not necessarily a better one. As "Battle of the Smithsonian" opens, we learn that Larry has become an inventor and infomercial mogul (his latest product is a not-very-appealing glow-in-the-dark flashlight), and although he's now financially successful and has built a comfortable life for himself and his son Nicky (Jake Cherry), something's missing. He figures out what it is -- almost -- when he learns that his former workplace is about to be completely redesigned: Its director (played, once again, with amusing superciliousness by Ricky Gervais) has decided that no one cares about looking at dioramas and old bones anymore; museum visitors want talking holograms and interactive displays. So all of Larry's old pals, including crusty and wise Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), the mischievous capuchin monkey Dexter, and the aforementioned cowboy and centurion (once again played by Wilson and Coogan) are being packed up and shipped off, to be stored underground at the Smithsonian Institution for an indefinite period. The mystical Egyptian tablet that allows them to come alive won't be going with them....

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