Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian isn’t a bad movie. It isn’t a terribly good movie either. Christopher Guest is wasted as Ivan the Terrible; he has maybe six lines and is nearly unrecognizable under a beard. Hank Azaria’s Pharaoh lisps; several reviewers found this to be hilarious, and while I understand that the lisp combined with the British accent is supposed to indicate a certain kind of upper class twit, I found it to be rather silly and offensive. Poor Amy Adams gamely utters some of the worst “chipper” dialog I’ve heard in some time, but she certainly gives it her all and she looks great, though nothing like Amelia Earhart.
And if the board of the American Museum of Natural History actually considered for a microsecond the asinine idea that drives this film’s plot engine, New Yorkers would likely rise up in revolt.
There are some lovely things in the movie. Most are small, like the return of Owen Wilson’s miniature cowboy and Steve Coogan’s tiny Roman and their heartwarming bromance (including Brokeback Mountain references). Octavian’s attempt to reach President Obama is a marvelous collaboration between the actor, the set dressers and greensmen, and the film’s composer and editors. Visuals, dialog, and music come together in a brief, perfect, snippet that was nearly the best laugh in the movie.
If you’re a fan of 20th Century sculpture, as I am, you’ll enjoy the scenes in the sculpture halls. Works by Picasso, Calder, Koons, and more all have their moments to shine. Pay attention, as many of the best bits take place quickly and in the background; they’re easy to miss and I’m sure I didn’t catch everything. Also pleasing are the trio of cherubim that persistently serenade Larry and Amelia with a medley of love songs. I nearly snorted liquid through my nose when they burst into “More than a Woman.” My daughter and I always stay for the credits, where we discovered that this trio is voiced by the Jonas Brothers; my daughter couldn’t decide if this was horrifying or amusing—she can’t stand the Jonases but had to admit that the cherubs looked like a Mad Magazine version of the Jo-Bros.
By far, the best set piece of the movie is the sequence in the Air & Space Museum. I love many of the Smithsonian museums—my family and I have been making regular trips to DC to indulge in the Smithsonian since I was a child—and visiting Air & Space never fails to put a smile on my face. The writers of Battle at the Smithsonian clearly understand the joys of Air & Space. Think about it for a minute—the exhibits at Air & Space come to life . . . what do they want to do?
It was beautiful. Fast-paced, well scripted, sharply cut together, not overloaded with special effects, and well cast even in the smallest speaking roles—the guys in mission control were perfect.
The Air & Space sequence also introduces one of the best small elements in the movie: the Tiny Einies. That’s what my daughter and I are calling the Albert Einstein bobbleheads (want! one! now!). Voiced by Eugene Levy, these charming little physicists, armed with really short pencils, have gotten right to work, scribbling diagrams and equations on their tiny sticky-note pads. When Larry and Amelia come to ask the small geniuses for help, the genial Tiny Einies solve their problem almost instantly and each flashes a different part of the answer on his individual sticky pad. I laughed so hard that water leaked from my eyes.
If and when you see this, stay for the credits. There’s a nice gag there—though it’s one that completely violates the conventions of the film.
While Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts, some of those parts are definitely worth watching.