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The Night at the Museum Series

Night at the Museum (July 14/07)

As lightweight and inoffensive as its premise might've indicated, Night at the Museum is a breezy piece of work that's occasionally weighed down by needless instances of heavy-handed sentimentality. Ben Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a down-on-his-luck single father who's forced to take a job as a museum night watchman to support his son. Problems emerge as it becomes clear that every inanimate item within the museum - including tiny model soldiers and a Stonehenge statue - comes alive at night, and it's up to Larry to ensure that that nothing/nobody escapes the confines of the building. Directed by Shawn Levy, Night at the Museum moves at a relatively brisk pace and features a number of genuinely entertaining set pieces - with Larry's frantic, chaotic first night on the job undoubtedly a highlight. Stiller's expectedly personable performance certainly goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, while it's hard not to find some value in the exceedingly quirky supporting cast (which includes, among others, Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, and Steve Coogan). It's a shame, then, that screenwriters Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have opted to throw in a series of increasingly dramatic interludes, as there's just no denying that such moments come off as entirely needless and flat-out forced (ie unlike certain similarly-themed efforts, the film's more schmaltzy attributes stand out like a sore thumb). Still, Night at the Museum is generally entertaining and it's ultimately difficult not to be drawn into the admittedly out-there storyline.

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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (May 21/09)

There's little doubt that Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian ultimately fares slightly worse than its uneven yet agreeable predecessor, with the almost pervasively juvenile atmosphere and hopelessly thin storyline resulting in a myriad of lulls within the movie's ongoing narrative. The film follows Ben Stiller's Larry Daley as he's forced to surreptitiously break into the Smithsonian after his inanimate friends are shipped there for storage, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing Larry and company's efforts at outwitting an evil Pharoah (Hank Azaria's Kahmunrah) bent on world domination. It's a familiar premise that's initially employed to relatively entertaining effect by director Shawn Levy and screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, with the movie's briskly-paced sensibilities perpetuated by the inclusion of several admittedly clever interludes and sequences (ie during a fight in front of several paintings, the bartender from Edward Hopper's iconic "Nighthawks" attempts to assist the heroes by brandishing a broken bottle). Stiller's likeable performance is matched by an impressive supporting cast that includes Bill Hader, Owen Willson, and Robin Williams, although - as becomes clear almost immediately - it's Amy Adams' charismatic, thoroughly enchanting work as Amelia Earhart that stands as the film's most invaluable attribute. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which the filmmakers' excessively kid-friendly tendencies become impossible to ignore, as the movie is slowly-but-surely suffused with tedious, needlessly drawn-out comedic sequences that are exacerbated by Levy's penchant for indulging his actors' improvisational impulses (with an excruciatingly prolonged argument between Larry and Kahmunrah surely the most egregious example of this). By the time Stiller's character engages in a slapping fight with a pair of monkeys, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian has incontrovertibly established itself as an endeavor designed to appeal solely to small children - which is undoubtedly a shame, given the strength of the cast and the promise of the movie's early scenes.

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© David Nusair