I can’t imagine there is any better way to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian than the way I did — with my wife and two daughters on the last night of a week long trip to Washington D.C., having just spent hours at all of the places depicted in the film. That sort of experience basically renders moot any traditional criticism of the film.
The film certainly has its flaws, principal among them the complete absurdity of the premise. And no, I don’t mean the idea of museum exhibits coming to life at night — I can accept that. I mean the idea of, say, Abraham Lincoln’s statue rising from the seat of his memorial and walking across the city (and here’s the truly absurd part) seemingly undetected by any human being apart from Ben Stiller’s security guard-turned-entrepreneur. And I’m not sure why the Lincoln statue was affected by the magical museum re-animation tablet in the first place.
But as I said, criticism of this movie is beside the point. When we revisited the Lincoln Memorial at night an hour after the film ended, my girls shouted “Stand up!” to the statue and that pushed aside any desire to nitpick the film.
Battle of the Smithsonian offers some big laughs, most courtesy of Hank Azaria as the film’s lisping ancient Egyptian villain. He pretty much shoulders the “adult” comic burden on his own and delivers in every scene. A showdown between Stiller and a security guard played by Jonah Hill is also quite funny and feels giddily improvised, and Ricky Gervais brings his hilarious jaded cynicism to his small role as a museum curator. The rest of the film’s humor is better for smiles than laughs, but charmingly so.
Also charming is Amy Adams as a reanimated Amelia Earhart. She throws herself into the role with gusto, embracing every cornball turn of phrase and wearing a pair of skintight aviator pants so effectively that I often had difficulty paying attention to anything else.
Ultimately, this film (and, I presume, its predecessor) succeeds based on how cleverly it delivers on the central conceit of museum exhibits that live and breathe. On that front, Battle of the Smithsonian is largely a success. I was particularly impressed with the happenings in the Museum of Art, where famous paintings come vividly to life and Rodin’s Thinker is exposed as a skirt-chasing grunt.