Night at the Museum: Antics in America's Attic

natmuseum_image1As I suffered through the endless parade of trashy, soulless, and painfully corny kiddie flick trailers that preceded my eagerly anticipated screening of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, I realized just how hard it is to make a truly good family film. Pander to the whims of a six year old focus group, and you’re left with farting dinosaur princesses who ride rocketships shaped like ponies. Try too hard to entertain the parents in the crowd and you get a muddle of double entendres and sly references to 80′s sitcoms that leave the little ones bored and confused. It’s a balancing act that would make the Man On Wire dude jealous. But when filmmakers perfect the mixture, as in the case of Shrek (usually), anything from Pixar, or Lindsay Lohan Disney remakes that predate Herbie, it’s the type of event that the phrase “fun for the whole family” was created for. The Night at the Museum franchise has taken something of a middle ground with scripts that veer wildly between the high road and the low road, landing amazing off kilter one liners as often as they make me roll my eyes and groan, but the sheer quantity of enjoyable material and genius casting make the romp totally worth it.

NatM:BotS picks up a couple years after the original and finds former Museum of Natural History night guard natmuseum_image3Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) living a wildly successful Ron Popiel-like existence hawking inventions on late night TV with a little help from George Foreman. He visits his old stomping grounds only to find all his favorite exhibits getting packed away to the Smithsonian archives, away from the Egyptian tablet that lets them come to life every night. But Larry’s mischievous monkey nemesis spirits the tablet away, waking up every last display at the world’s largest museum, including a covetous pharaoh (Hank Azaria) who wants the tablet for himself. A desperate call from 2” tall cowpoke Jed (Owen Wilson) brings Larry down to the nation’s capitol, and comedic mayhem ensues.

The razor thin plot is just an excuse to bring random stuff to life, but when it’s stuff as awesome as Azaria’s simultaneously snarly and lispy baddie or SNL notable Bill Hader’s hillarious take on General Custer, the antics will leave a constant smile on your face. The most refreshing addition to the cast is Amy Adams as unlikely romantic foil Amelia Earhart. I’m continuously impressed by how high and fast Adams’s star has risen. She’s natmuseum_image4gorgeous, delightful, versatile, and in my estimation, bound for a greater legacy than Julia Roberts. She imbues the ill fated aviatrix with all the fast talking optimism and charm the 1920′s had to offer and sells the best man/statue love story since Kim Catrall walked the streets in Mannequin (not that I’m pretending they had much competition). My only major disappointment with the movie was why bother casting incomparable comic genius Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible if you’re not going to give him anything funny or interesting to do? Rather sad. But it’s a small potatoes complaint next to the great Frat Pack cameos, living works of art, and (I never thought I’d write this) a genius role for the Jonas Brothers. Whether you’re a parent with kids you want to keep intelligently entertained with adventure and stealthy bits of high culture and historical truth or just a post-collegiate hipster with a thing for witty randomness (guilty!) do yourself a favor and go enjoy Night at The Museum now-ish.

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