DVD Release Date:  December 1, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 22, 2009
Rating:  PG (for mild action and brief language)
Genre:  Family/Comedy
Run Time:  105 min.
Director:  Shawn Levy
Actors:  Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Eugene Levy, Jake Cherry, Patrick Gallagher

Historically speaking, museums just aren't that cool when you're a kid. Sure, when they're part of the requisite school field trip, any excuse for getting out of class for a day is fun. But that's hardly a ringing endorsement for the museum itself. After all, when compared to say, another game of Wii Super Mario Galaxy, a bunch of old stuff with an intriguing backstory isn't really all that attention-grabbing.

But in 2006's surprise hit Night at the Museum, Ben Stiller, along with a motley crew of relics that inexplicably came to life after hours, helped seriously up the museum's street cred. Mixing bite-sized pieces of history in with goofy humor and over-the-top storytelling, it was the cinematic equivalent of pureeing vegetables into a batch of fudgy brownies—basically, a win-win scenario for kids, their parents and Hollywood (the flick grossed more than $250 million in North America alone).

Now that nearly three years have passed since the adventure at the Museum of Natural History, is it possible that the proverbial lighting can strike twice in the same place? I mean, we've already seen a gi-normous T-Rex play fetch. The demanding Easter Island Head finally got its bubble gum, and miniature cowboy Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) and miniature Octavius (Steve Coogan) finally put aside their differences and have became best buds. Is there anything else really worth exploring?

Well, lighting can strike twice if you switch locations and seriously revamp the storyline, which is exactly what the filmmakers smartly did this time around. Turns out that Larry Daley (Stiller) has traded in his humble job as a museum night watchman for life as a corporate big-wig. The once-failed inventor finally hits it big with the glow-in-the-dark flashlight and other gimmicky gadgets. Spending the majority of his time making deals and appearing in infomercials alongside George Foreman, there's a pervasive joylessness about his life, despite making the big bucks. Even with a huge partnership with Wal-Mart waiting in the wings, Larry misses those nights at the museum, and his son Nicky (Jake Cherry) misses his dad's attention.

His old museum pals like Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), not to mention the museum's snarky curator (Ricky Gervais) have certainly noticed his changing priorities, too, because they haven't seen him in ages. But when it's revealed that the time-honored waxworks will be replaced by new holographic displays (gotta move with the times, right?) and then permanently moved to storage at the Smithsonian, Jedediah hopes that Larry will come to their rescue yet again.

It doesn't take much pleading on Jedediah's part to get Larry to agree. Well, as long as Larry makes it to his morning meeting. So after snatching a security pass in a hilarious exchange with one of the play-by-the-rules guards (Jonah Hill in a memorable cameo), Larry immediately goes to work and eventually makes his way to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. where he must sneak into the archives (which is strictly off limits to civilians) and recover the stolen gold tablet that evil Pharaoh Kahmunrah (a lisping, cloying Hank Azaria) is also on the prowl for. It's not the easiest of tasks, of course, but the viewer can't help but root for Larry every step of the way.

The change of venue, not to mention all the film's creative little touches, offers plenty of new thrills for the viewer. With the audience's often A-D-D mentality in mind, the script is jam-packed with a slew of new characters, funny dialogue and a thrill-a-minute action sequences. Among the new additions to the pack, Amy Adams is definitely a highlight as Amelia Earhart, a fiercely independent woman in the manner of Katharine Hepburn with a witty retort for everything.

As the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, Amelia is always encouraging Larry to embrace the adventure in life, but isn't so one-dimensional that she can't enjoy a little romance. Even the surrounding cherubs (voiced by the Jonas Brothers) floating above the nearby fountains can't help but sing cheery pop songs as the cute couple passes. And the cheesy tracks they choose for these moments provide plenty of extra laughs in the process.

Even a few Einstein bobbleheads (voiced by Eugene Levy) and Abraham Lincoln (Azaria again) team up with Larry and Amelia to help solve the mysteries at the Smithsonian, a journey that's not only fun, but probably helps serve as more positive P.R. for kids embracing history at a nearby museum. Or at the very least redeems the past couple of choices that Stiller has made in choosing comedies to star in.
 
CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  Several exclamations of God's name, plus a couple of the milder expletives.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Larry and Amelia share a couple of kisses.
  • Violence:  There are a few fight scenes between various rivals that are more comedic than truly mean. And yes, that slapping Capuchin monkey is back, giving Larry a few smacks to his face. 

     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.