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Stiller sequel falls short with a safe, flat script

"NIGHT at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" is one of those sequels in which "bigger" is supposed to mean "better," in which more characters, more sight gags and more action are supposed to add up to more fun.

They don't.

The follow-up to the enormous 2006 hit "Night at the Museum" heaps on the historical figures and crams them into not one but two museums, with the end result feeling crazed, scattered and desperate. So many new characters have been added to the ones who appeared in the original film, and director Shawn Levy flits between them at such a zippy pace, no one gets much of a chance to register. And that's a waste of the comic talents amassed among the cast.

Besides returning stars Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Robin Williams, now we have Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest, Jonah Hill and Bill Hader. Craig Robinson, Mindy Kaling and Jay Baruchel are severely squandered ?ù¨? they get maybe two lines apiece.

It's amazing that screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon can come up with twisted material for TV series like "Reno 911!" but offer such safe, flat laughs in movies like this, its predecessor and "The Pacifier." Pity, too, since the core concept ¨? that famous figures at the museum come to life at night ¨? is still clever.

Having said all that, kids are the primary targets for a lot of the jokes and visuals, and will probably enjoy themselves.

Playful T-Rex

Ever the straight man, Stiller gets smacked around by two capuchin monkeys this time. A giant fuchsia octopus wreaks havoc and a T-Rex skeleton that acts like a playful pup should provoke some giggles. And yes, those are the Jonas Brothers, flying around and harmonizing harmlessly as cherubim.

Stiller, as former night guard Larry Daley, returns to Manhattan's Museum of Natural History and discovers that his old friends like the cowboy Jedediah (Wilson) and Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) are being shipped off to storage at the Smithsonian in Washington as part of a high-tech update. Larry left the gig a while ago and now has a lucrative business selling his gadgets, like a glow-in-the-dark flashlight, on infomercials. But he decides to step into action and save them because, well, there has to be some reason for a sequel.

That premise alone wasn't enough, though. While trolling the underground storage areas of the sprawling Smithsonian complex, Larry also runs into the Egyptian ruler Kahmunrah (Azaria), who has awaked from a 3,000-year slumber with plans to take over the museum, and the world. Dressed in an ornate tunic that's a repeated, and unfunny, source of ridicule, Kahmunrah has gathered classic baddies to his side: Ivan the Terrible (Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (John Bernthal).

Larry, meanwhile, has General Custer (Hader), some inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) and the plucky Amelia Earhart (Adams) to help his cause.

If only the movie offered the adventure Earhart was seeking ¨? and we deserve.


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