The sequel to the midly amusing 2006 family film Night at the Museum suffers from a common follow-up ailment, so focused on upping the stakes that it loses most of the charm it had in the first place. Special effects-driven comedies have a delicate balancing act to perform, making sure the big-budget fireworks never overwhelm the humor, and Battle of the Smithsonian tips the scales too far in favor of the spectacle. It makes everything bigger and more impressive on a technical level, but can’t ever find a story to match.
Despite all the expensive effects, the first movie was a rather basic affair; when the exhibits in New York’s Museum of Natural History came to life, night guard Larry (Stiller) mostly just had to keep them from getting loose. The villains of the piece were a trio of bumbling senior citizens, and their half-cocked plot didn’t kick into gear until midway through the movie. This time around, Larry has a much bigger mission, following the magical tablet that awakens the museum exhibits to the Smithsonian, where it summons an evil Egyptian ruler (Azaria) bent on taking over the world.
Stealing plot elements from the Mummy franchise is probably not the best strategy for making a fun kids’ movie, and Battle spends far too much time on action and story mechanics, which just opens up a lot of plot holes. There is one welcome new addition, though: Amy Adams plays Amelia Earhart with the same wide-eyed optimism she showed in Enchanted, along with a bit of the fast-talking 1930s-style dialogue she employed in the underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. A weird romantic subplot between Amelia and Larry doesn’t quite work, but Adams is thoroughly charming whenever she’s onscreen.
The rest of the movie tries hard to charm, too, but it’s just too crammed with pointless cameos and distracting effects, and the perfunctory lesson about doing what makes you happy rings false (unlike the original’s hokey but endearing pro-learning message). The filmmakers should take a lesson from Larry himself, who’s horrified at the newfangled holographic displays replacing his beloved museum dioramas: Keep things simple.