Here comes a family-friendly sequel to one of the biggest family-friendly hits of 2006. It's got a bigger playground this time (Washington's Smithsonian Institute) and a bigger cast of familiar faces, but is it a better movie than the original? Not really.
Our night guard hero Larry Daley (Stiller) has made his fortune inventing all sorts of new gadgets (such as a glow-in-the-dark flashlight, which is actually a clever idea) and hawking them on those awful advertorial TV shows. Of course, he misses all his old mates at the Natural History Museum in New York – you know, all those exhibits that come to life. When he learns that the museum is being renovated, redesigned and modernised – and all his friends are going into storage in the archives under the Smithsonian in Washington – he decides to take action. And pretty soon he's involved in trying to defeat the evil plans of revived Egyptian pharoah Kahmunrah (Azaria), the jealous older brother of the villain from the first film, who wants to raise an army of the undead and take over the world. As you do.
Overall, the film is a little bit of a mess. The plot is hackneyed and so full of holes it's a wonder it doesn't collapse in upon itself, sucking in the universe along the way. The biggest problem is the writing – it's a pretty lazy, lacklustre script with very few highlights that relies on clichés and slapstick. On the acting front, Stiller seems to be content to just phone in his performance in this one – he's easily overshadowed by great turns from Azaria and Adams, who plays legendary female pilot Amelia Earhart. Azaria, who is best known as a voice actor from The Simpsons, hams it up mercilessly and seems to be having a great time, while Adams is her usual gorgeous, perky and delightful self – despite the fact that she's been given some of the naffest dialogue in the film. You have to admire her plucky spirit. As for the rest of the cast? Most of them are pretty much wasted, garnering only a handful of scenes. Which, when you have talent like Wilson, Coogan, Hader and the brilliant Guest, really is a shame.
It's not all bad news, though. There is a marvellous scene early on between Stiller and Hill, who plays a Smithsonian guard, that shows just how clever could have been with a bit more thought and care. And several scenes that involve works of art – paintings such as Nighthawks, American Gothic and Blue Poles, and sculptures such as Rodin's Thinker – come to life. (Although the three little cupids, voiced by the Jonas Brothers, should have been shot). And this time round, Stiller finds himself getting slapped around by not one, but two capuchin monkeys. There's plenty here to keep children amused – at the screening I attended, the kids were howling with laughter, particularly at the monkeys – and enough to stop adults falling asleep (particularly the blokes, because Adams really is one hell of a cutie). One question remains, though – why was the title Battle For The Smithsonian dropped for its UK release?