Everything Comes to Life! Except the Movie
I can’t think of a thing to say except that I hated it, but that’s because I’m not a slightly brain-damaged 11 years old. Battle of the Smithsonian was a silly, gleefully brainless reproduction of the first movie with a few extra faces thrown into the mix to give it the illusion that it’s different from the original. And yet I suspect it’s precisely what director Shawn Levy envisioned. He and writers Rob Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon executed the exact film they wanted to make. It’s not a failure of competence. There’s certainly not a lack of talent involved. And it’s not poorly done. They were aiming this at a crowd of adolescents who require nothing more than bland, inoffensive shininess to preoccupy them for 105 minutes. And that’s what they achieved.
But if you’re an adult, take a pillow. And if you’re unable to fall asleep on it, use it to suffocate yourself. You’ll look repeatedly down at your watch, at first to see how much longer the movie is, and then later because it’s more interesting to watch the second hand than it is to watch Battle of the Smithsonian. The appeal process for death penalty inmates feels shorter than Battle of the Smithsonian and if you were forced to watch it while on death row, you’d beg them for the gas chamber.
Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, two years removed from his job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History in Brooklyn. In the interim, he’s become an inventor of infomercial products, most notably a glow-in-the-dark flashlight that George Foreman helps him plug. During his absence, however, the history has advanced technologically — holographic exhibits are set to replace the wax figures, which are being packed up and stored in the archival basement at the Smithsonian. The Tablet of Akmenrah — which brings all the artifacts to life — is also being stored there, which presents a problem when Kah Mun Rah (Hank Azaria) comes back to life with designs on ruling the Earth by using the Tablet to unleash his army of the undead. Or something. Kah Mun Rah is assisted in these efforts by Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and a black-and-white Al Capone (Jon Bernthal).
Larry is called in by the tiny action figure cowboy, Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) to come save the day, which he does with the assistance of Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and an assorted number of other historical figures. Mostly this involves walking aimlessly around the Smithsonian to interact with the set pieces, like those baby cupids — who sing hip hop songs — or the The Thinker, who likes to show off his muscles.
Battle of the Smithsonian is an ungodly waste of talent, although there are certainly enough name actors willing to waste their presence for a check. In addition to Stiller, Azara, and Adams; Robin Williams returns as Teddy Roosevelt; Jonah Hill appears as a Smithsonian night guard; Steve Coogan plays Octavius; Bill Hader plays General Custer; an unrecognizable Christopher Guest plays Ivan the Terrible; and there are four “The Office” affiliated actors, including Ricky Gervais and Ed Helms, both — like most everyone else in the film — in throwaway roles. The only redeeming aspect of the movie, in fact, is Amy Adams’ turn as Amelia Earhart — she’s good. Really good. Not good enough to make the movie interesting, or compelling, or worthy of your attention, but she’s got moxie. She’s a damn firecracker.
But the good news is, if you’re a parent, you can rest easy knowing that, if you allow your youngsters to see Battle of the Smithsonian, that there is some educational value in it. They’ll learn, for instance, that Abe Lincoln likes playing matchmaker and was kind of an idiot; that General Custer liked to brush his hair and was kind of an idiot; that Napoleon Bonaparte was a ladies’ man and kind of an idiot; and that Ivan the Terrible really preferred to be called Ivan the Awesome. Also, he was kind of an idiot. Even better, the movie just may send your kids scurrying to their history books to seek out the film’s main villain, Kah Mun Rah, who is a completely fictional historical figure. But you don’t have to tell your children that. Think of all the hours you’ll have to yourself while they’re trying to research him.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.