Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K
I'm just going to say it. Amy Adams rocks my world. Is there any greater joy in this world than she? If you've found one, let me know. See, she can make me like any movie, bad or good, seem so much better just on charm alone. I didn't see the first Night at the Museum movie, and if not for her, I probably would have avoided the second one too. Partly because I don't have children and I don't want to look like a creep, but partly because, well, what would be the point?
But I'm actually glad I saw Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, oddly enough. It's unabashedly silly at parts, and wonderfully earnest in others (that Robin Williams provides the latter rather than the former is maybe its greatest accomplishment). But what it has more than anything is heart, and a lot of kids’ movies could learn a thing of two from it. It takes place in the various parts of the Smithsonian museums, which is pretty darn cool. It fact, it was the first time ever that the Smithsonian allowed crews to film inside the museum, always during regular hours, as to only cause minimal disturbance to the other patrons. Of course, there is the word "battle" in the title, so there is disturbance and so much of it had to be filmed on a set, where they built enormous replicas, particularly of the Air & Space Museum.
In the first movie, the dioramas came to life, and Ben Stiller's character has to contend with Teddy Roosevelt (played calmly by Williams), miniature figures of cowboys (Owen Wilson) and Romans (Steve Coogan), Neanderthals, and a capuchin monkey. In the Smithsonian, though, everything comes to life–the mannequins, of course, but also the paintings, the sculptures, and even a giant Abraham Lincoln, you know, of the Lincoln Memorial. Though I cringed a little as they battled through the museums, breaking things in the various exhibits, it's mostly a loving tribute to museums, and these in particular. There's an attention to detail that I really loved. The main adversary, Kamunrah, (played by Hank Azaria) sits atop his throne, Archie Bunker's chair, and rejects Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch from his gang. In the Air & Space Museum, the Wright Brothers are seen eating astronaut ice cream. In the art museum, American Gothic, and Edward Hopper’s Nighhawks come alive. At one point the action jumps into the black and white photo, The Kiss.
That a lot of the movie is improvised is no surprise, either, but there times when it works–any time Hank Azaria is on screen–and times where it doesn't–the opening with Jonah Hill, whose appearance in any movie, big or small, always makes me want to kill myself.
But back to my main point: Amy Adams. She makes the movie. Her Amelia Earhart is spunky, in the best possible way. She's up for the adventure, and tags along, always asserting herself as staunchly feminist, but gleefully from a bygone era. She's straight out of a 40s movie, and every line is a zinger. "You haven't been able to take your cheaters off my chassis since we met." How can you not like this woman?
In the end, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is a lot of fun, and I haven't even told you about Lincoln coming to life yet, or the Einstein bobble heads, or the Thinker or Custer. There's so much brimming from every frame, that it will be an ADD kid's dream come true. And, apparently, the first movie caused a sizable difference in attendance at the Natural History Museum. Let's hope this does the same for the Smithsonian too.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: 7/10