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Jul 25, 2009 at 03:26am IST

Masand's movie review: Night at the Museum

Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson

Direction: Shawn Levy

Even more hare-brained than the first installment, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian stars Ben Stiller once again as Larry Daley, who has quit his job as a museum night guard to become a rich and successful businessman whose company specialises in such novelty items as glow-in-the-dark flashlights.

When Larry pops into New York's Museum of Natural History where he previously worked, he discovers that many of his friends – those wax statues, stuffed figures, miniatures and artifacts that come to life after the place is shut down in the night – are being packed up and sent off to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington for storage. On receiving a distressed call the following night from miniature cowboy Jedediah (played by Owen Wilson), Larry heads to DC to check what's bothering his buddies. As it turns out, Egyptian ruler Kahmunrah (played by Hank Azaria) is bullying the new arrivals and threatening to take over the world.

Underutilising an interesting premise for the second time, the makers of this film opt for a tired old tale about a grand battle between the good guys and the bad guys, completely ignoring the possibility of exploiting some of the great figures of history who pop up in the film as characters. So although you've still got Teddy Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams again), and although Amelia Earhart turns up in this film (played by the charming Amy Adams), the script doesn't use them very smartly at all.

At best this sequel cranks up the spectacle value with some big set pieces that might woo the kids – like Amelia flying off in the Wright Brothers' plane, and a giant octopus smothering Larry with its tentacles. For those looking for smart laughs though, there's barely a handful of clever moments. Like Kahmunrah's touchiness about his tunic which everyone refers to as a "dress", and Napoleon Bonaparte resenting references to his diminutive height, and even Kahmunrah's perplexity on meeting Darth Vader. These jokes though are few and far between.

The film's biggest disappointment is Ben Stiller who looks like he was forced to be in this film. There is none of his usually manic energy on display here. The best bits in this picture are provided by Jonah Hill and Ricky Gervais who have one and two scenes respectively, but demonstrate remarkable comic timing. Jonah Hill appears as a portly security guard at the Smithsonian who Larry gets into a scrap with so he can steal his access card, and Ricky Gervais as the curator of the New York museum who's thrilled about Larry's change-of-heart at the end of the movie, but is too stuck up to say it.

This film is ultimately a difficult watch because it just retreads many of the old jokes, and compensates for a lack of novelty by upgrading location and gimmicks. It's a big plodding bore for anyone seeking original, engaging entertainment. I'm going with one out of five for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian – if you're smarter than a fifth-grader, you deserve better than this!

Rating: 1 / 5 (Poor)

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