Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2009

More, more, more! = less

A bigger, more expensive 'Night at the Museum' isn't necessarily better

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
20th Century Fox
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Alain Chabat
Rated PG / 1 hour, 45 minutes
Opened May 22, 2009
(out of four)

In following up their 2006 smash hit, the filmmakers behind the Night at the Museum franchise adopted a distinct "bigger is better" ethos.

Statues coming to life inside a museum weren't enough anymore. We needed more character actors. We needed spaceships and tyrants and gangsters. We needed tiny Albert Einsteins and giant Abraham Lincolns. (Unfortunately, giant Thomas Jefferson couldn't make it, despite his memorial being just across the way from Abe's. A pity, really, as I'm sure the two could have had some heated philosophical discussions on the owning of slaves and what-not. That's entertainment!)

In fact, with all there is to look at in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - not to mention all the words in the title - there's hardly any room for an actual movie. Watching it, you get the image of a board room full of people trying to come up with as many pop historical references as they can to throw up on the screen. And throw they do. One might even say they hurl.

After the brainstorming session, of course, came the writing session, and the result is a succession of gags just (just!) clever enough that the kids will laugh and dumb enough that the adults will cringe. From time to time, a talented actor (and there are many in this movie) will overcome that - with pitch-perfect delivery and timing, perhaps a bit of ad-libbing to improve the script, maybe a funny face or two. But by and large, this is not a movie at all, but an excuse to spend money on special effects and fun little costumes.

You know the drill - at sundown, all the statues and monuments come to life. This time, instead of a mere history museum, it's the entire Smithsonian. The story revolves around the evil Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) as he tries to gain control of the magical Tablet of Ahkmenrah and conquer the world. And it's up to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) - now a successful entrepreneur - and all his buddies to thwart this diabolical scheme.

That's it, by the way. That's the entire plot. Oh, and Larry kind of falls in love with Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams, the only actor in this movie who provides the film with any humanity).

Director Shawn Levy and writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon all return from the first go-round and try to think bigger - this time allowing works of art like V-J Day in Times Square and American Gothic to spring to life as well. The larger scale of the exercise compared to last time means more noise, more mess and more visual stimuli, but less coherence and wit.

The thing is, this basic premise could go on forever. Find any place with inanimate monuments and voila! You've got a movie. Next time, they could scale it back and do Night at the Mall - with all the display models, cardboard cutouts, hollow plastic mascots and, of course, department-store mannequins all coming to life when the doors close. It would be like that movie Mannequin times a thousand.

Then again, that would mean all the naked mannequins in storage would have to come to life, too, revealing particular body parts . . . or lack thereof, I suppose. Either way, it would alienate the family audience.

If you do go for the mall idea, guys, I beg you - please avoid any kind of cross-promotional tie-ins with McDonald's, because I do not want to see those Ronald McDonald statues at the food court come to life - or any other clown, for that matter. At that point, I'd be afraid the movie might just go sour and end with the police unearthing corpses from underneath the Play Place sandbox.

Anyway, if we're going for bigger and better, the next step has to be Madame Tussauds, right? I mean, just imagine the possibilities. We'd finally get the Beatles back together. We could see Muhammad Ali fight Mike Tyson in his prime. Or, even better, have Keaton fight Chaplin. (Keaton TKO, round two.) Or, better yet, they could all band together and punch out Ryan Seacrest.

We could get a couple more glorious hours of Arnold Schwarzenegger's prime, have Karl Marx and Don King get together to discuss personal grooming and even have Engelbert Humperdinck around for comic relief. And I'm sure we could find something for Marilyn Monroe to do.

See? After all this time, wax museums would finally have a purpose. I don't know where there's a plot in all that, but I'm sure we could figure something out.

After that, how about setting the next sequel at one of those nuclear testing sites? Can you imagine those dummies coming to life? Would they be able to talk? Would they instinctively understand their singular purpose on this earth and just commit suicide en masse?

Is any of this sounding good, 20th Century Fox? Also, is there a statue of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man anywhere? Because that would just be awesome, if only for nostalgia's sake. Maybe he could eat Ben Stiller at the end - an ironic gesture, since everyone knows Ben Stiller loves marshmallows.

(OK, I made that up.)

On that note, is there a God statue anywhere? Because that might answer a few questions. Or raise more, I suppose. Oh, the places you'll go, Larry Daley. The places you'll go!

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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