Monday, January 25, 2010

Night At The Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian

While the first Night At The Museum movie was cute and vaguely amusing, and I didn't regret half-watching it, I probably wouldn't've bothered with the second one based on the reviews. However, after our visit to the Smithsonian I thought it might be more interesting to see the movie set in so many of the places we saw (and, as it happens, heavily promoted in those places). So I put it on the Netflix queue.

This was definitely a movie without focus, dominated by the urge to shove in everything they could possibly think of that might be interesting. The result is a number of cute and amusing moments, far too many of which are winking at the audience with the deliberately incongruous or the willfully smug. It's a movie made of cotton candy which melts away so fast you hardly realize you've been eating it.

So no surprises there. And no surprises that the glimpses of places I've been and things I've seen, woven into the movie (plus the chance to object that "that wasn't there!" and "that would never fit in that hall", as if those are the things one should object to!) were usually the best parts. Actually, "no surprises" is a good theme for the movie because the plot also had none.

The characters from the first movie were brought along in a largely perfunctory manner, many of them as little more than cameos that served only to slow things down. And it seems silly to say the new characters were two-dimensional farces since that's what they were in the first movie, but in the first movie, it was amusingly done -- they were, after all, animated statues, so why shouldn't they be farcical and simplistic? In this movie, it feels more an artifact of a scattered movie and scattered writers than something going on inside the movie's world.

Another objection that seems goofier than it is, is that they played too fast-and-loose and too arbitrary with the rules of the world. I know, if you saw the first movie you're thinking, what? They could hardly have been more arbitrary, and that was so beside the point. But it turns out they could, and in a way that shifts from "that's not the point of the movie" to "we just did whatever seemed amusing at this moment in the movie" (and ignored it later in the movie too).

On the upside, the locations are great, particularly the all-too-brief time at Air and Space (they didn't even look at the Udvar-Hazy Center so you'll have to settle for Transformers 2 if you want to see that in a movie) and the brief cameo from Apollo 13 in it. The depiction of Amelia Earhart was adorable (and made no effort to be realistic), and the moment when the Tuskegee Airmen thanked her was actually touching. Hank Azaria can't help stealing every scene even when he's been given godawful dialogue and bland mannerisms -- how does he do that? (To be fair, if Ben Stiller is your foil, it is probably not that hard.) Some of the things they do in the art museums are cute (though making Rodin's Thinker a vapid beefcake seems irreverent in the wrong way). And there are a lot of very brief but potent laughs sprinkled throughout.

The first movie was all style and no substance but at least it was cute. The second movie is all glitter and no style. But it's good for a few laughs. Watch it while you're doing something else, because otherwise you'll feel like you wasted two hours.

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