One justification for the heap of cultural garbage that was the first Night At The Museum is that it got kids interested in museums; after the film’s release, the Museum Of Natural History in New York enjoyed a 20 percent spike in visitors. What the numbers don’t measure is how bored the children were upon discovering that the statues and exhibits just sit there inertly, duping kids into learning things. No doubt the Smithsonian will experience the same surge of interest—and subsequent foot-dragging boredom—in the wake of Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, which ups the ante by adding more historical (and pop-cultural) figures and increasing the pointless, unfunny, brain-rotting chaos in kind. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a more enriching experience, and it features Joan Of Arc as an aerobics instructor.
In fact, there are a few historical lessons to take away from Smithsonian: Napoleon was short and spiteful, hence the term “Napoleon Complex”; Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; and Earhart looked really adorable in those form-fitting flying pants. Outside of that, useful tidbits are catch-as-catch-can, as night watchman Ben Stiller returns for another adventure on the much larger stage of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. It seems that Stiller’s pals at the Museum Of Natural History have been shipped to a storage facility at the Smithsonian while their museum is under renovation. They make a distress call to Stiller after some troublemakers at their new home, led by a lisping Egyptian ruler (Hank Azaria) and a band of other historical bad boys (Ivan The Terrible, Napoleon, Al Capone), start working on a world-domination scheme.
Like any formulaic Hollywood sequel, Smithsonian provides “more of the same, only more,” but there are a few marginal improvements, including Amy Adams’ plucky Earhart, a slightly toned-down Stiller performance, and a cameo from Archie Bunker’s “throne.” Yet it’s a busier and less coherent film, too, with a baffling master plot and a crowded pileup of special effects in search of something to do. Here’s a franchise built on the idea of history coming alive, but history would be easier to comprehend if it didn’t fidget around like a 6-year-old hopped up on Pixy Stix.