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Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian review

Not quite priceless…

More isn’t always merrier in sequels, especially if the first film wasn’t overly mirth-rich to start with.

The follow-up to 2006’s Ben Stiller vehicle is all about multiplication. You could call it Night At The Museums: the action shifts to the Smithsonian, a multi-museum complex containing lots of “Really Cool Stuff”.

This time, Larry (Ben Stiller) has to rescue his Natural History Museum exhibits-cum-pals from storage there, tussling with Egyptian ruler Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), Ivan The Terrible (Christopher Guest) and Napoleon (Alain Chabat) amid sentient sculptures, living paintings and boisterous squid en route.

Bill Hader’s General Custer and Amy Adams’ sharp-talkin’ Amelia Earhart join team Larry, so there’s plenty of ‘more’ to play with. But ‘more’ matters not a jot without a sharpening of plot and comedic weaponry. Some gags hit the spot, from Kahmunrah’s sensitivity over his dress (“Tunic!”) to some business involving Rodin’s The Thinker.

The brisk, one-night plot improves on its predecessor’s multi-night amble and Earhart’s jazz-age banter spruces up the dialogue. But ‘more’ also applies to the museumpiece jests and icky messages.

Gag-wise, Azaria’s fey tyrant is sub-Life Of Brian and the monkey-slapping is Night 1 recycled. Message-wise, Larry has found success between films. But more money hasn’t made him happy, so… Insert moral guff here. Larry’s life lesson is one the movie hasn’t learnt: Cool Stuff doesn’t make anyone happy or any film better.

With lots to cram in, Night 2 surrenders excitement-building narrative to ushering from round exhibits, but a museum tour is no plot. Nor does the pacing give you time to enjoy the cast: Adams, Azaria and Guest are good but given short shrift.

And with little room for audience involvement, what’s to offset the gag-reflex homilies when they arrive?

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