Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

Rated: PG for mild action and brief language
Length: 105 minutes
Grade: CB+CC=C
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $452 million (177 U.S., 235 Intl., 50-est-DVD)

Written by: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Co-Writers of Reno 911, Balls of Fury, Night at the Museum, The Pacifier, and Taxi)
Directed by: Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married, and Big Fat Liar)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, and Robin Williams, with Christopher Guest, Jonah Hill, and Ricky Gervais.

The magical comes-to-life museum from the first movie has come alive again, only this time a resurrected Pharaoh and his egomaniacal Axis of Evil (Al Capone, Ivan the Terrible, and Napoleon Bonaparte) want to conquer the world with the dark arts of the Tablet of Ahkmenrah. Thankfully, Larry-the-guard-turned-inventor-slash-infomercial-king is there to fight them off with the help of Ameila Earhart and his old friends.

Entertainment Value: C
This movie had moments of hilarity, mostly in the dialogue between Stiller and Jonah Hill or in Hank Azariah’s monologues (surely written by Lennon). But the rest of it was yet another example of patchwork plot with lots of expensive effects thrown on top in an effort to hide the mystery meat under enough gravy that kids will be entertained into enjoying it multiple times. This did not work. In what is perhaps the most devastating commentary possible: my boys were bored by it. But who am I to argue with the $400+ million box office? I’m Andrew Tallman, that’s who!

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence B+, Language B+
There were a couple of semi-scary scenes, but “semi-“scary is the important bit. At best, this is slapstick humor and fun action, like in the Air and Space Museum. I think there were two D-words in the movie, although I should warn you the previews actually have two donkey A-synonyms. But mostly it’s almost a G movie. As I said, our kids (3 and 5) watched it.

Significant Content: C
It’s important to do something you love rather than something that makes you money. History is fun, and “comes to life” with a little imagination rather than with a little modern technology. Dictators are dumb. Friendships really matter. And technology is bad because it makes people love the next big distraction rather than a less heavily marketed past good thing.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The trick to writing comedy is to make jokes you don’t have to explain and to then trust that they don’t need explaining. In this movie, the jokes were either bad because they needed explaining or they were good ones ruined with clumsy added explanations. Plot first. Plot first. Plot first. Then add big effects. How many times do I have to repeat this message?

Discussion Questions:
~This movie portrays various historical tyrants as being buffoons and semi-intelligent. How likely is it that Napoleon or Ivan the Terrible were such dimwits? What about General Custer?
~Are cell phones really as annoying as this movie makes out? How are cell phones used in this movie as a symbol of modern society?
~Are people losing their imagination and their patience with old-fashioned things like museum displays? Is a movie with all these effects and such a poor plot really a good vehicle for making that argument?
Is it true that the only valid reason to do something is because you love it? Why do you think this idea is so fashionable today? Larry has made millions by selling people seemingly trivial inventions, but if millions of people are paying him for those, are they really not making lives better off? Is the “do what you love rather than what you can make money at” idea anti-capitalist? Is it disrespectful to the people who would pay money for something?
~If you could change anything about our society so as to improve children’s imagination, what would you do?
Overall Grade: C
I really don’t have any good ideas about how to make this better, but my wife and my kids and I were all basically bored by it.

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