Fight Back Smithsonian!

There is little known about James Smithson, but every year, millions visit the museum named in his honor.  Things that might tell us who Smithson was were burned in the archives in the building that bears his name – The Smithsonian.  It’s safe to assume that James had no idea how famous he would be in the 21st century.  It’s also a shame to note that Ben Stiller is still trying to capitalize on other people’s fame.  So it’s with a heavy heart that I announce that seeing Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was another attempt at using lots of gifted people who try making Ben Stiller look talented and smart.

Robin Williams reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt (although he never used the word “Bully,” once.)  Mizuo Peck is the lovely Sacajawea again.  Owen Wilson plays the midget Jedediah Smith for a second round.  Only Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney, from the first go around, were nowhere to be found in this movie.

The star of the show was Hank Azaria.  He plays the main bad guy Kah Mun Rah.  Maybe the best part of this movie is that my wife can imitate Hank’s Egyptian lisp.  “Waith – thwhere are you thwo goingth?” For only seeing the movie once, she really has the twisted verbiage down pat.  Amy Adams is a close second with her portrayal of Amelia Earhart.  Her character though is subject to one of the sickest jokes in years about Earhart’s flying abilities; “Oh boy, she’s headed towards Canada.  Yep – that way is Canada.  Oh wait – she’s turning – OK; now she’s headed in the right direction.”

This movie still comes back to Stiller.  He is from some great comedic stock.  His parents are Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.  The problem is that Ben gets the top billing and he’s nowhere near as funny as any of his co-stars in the movie.

Maybe the funniest part of the movie was the battle of wits between the former night security guard and the current night security guard (Ben Stiller versus Jonah Hill).  The fact that Ben Stiller would be practicing his num-chuck techniques with an overly long black flashlight should tell you the depths to which the acting in this film took everyone.

This is a kid’s movie that makes a few attempts at adult humor.  It certainly wasn’t as bad as Pierce Brosnan singing an ABBA song in the film Mama Mia, but Ben keeps going for some deadpan comedy that isn’t there.  He’s done it before too:  Dodgeball, Zoolander, Starsky & Hutch.  Normally, with Stiller movies, there’s a simple way to tell if you’ll laugh or feel like you’ve been ripped off.

If Ben produced the movie, don’t go.  If Ben directed the movie, don’t go.  If Ben wrote the movie, don’t go.

I can imagine Ben Stiller troops around Hollywood pitching his bad movie ideas to studio executives and small film companies only to come up empty handed at the end of the day.  It’s at this point that Ben puts his own money into the project, rewrites parts to satisfy his costars, or sits in the director’s chair.  If any two of the elements mentioned exist, you’ve been warned.  Here are some examples:

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story – Producer

Starsky & Hutch – Producer

Zoolander – Producer, Writer, Director

Tropic Thunder – Producer, Writer, Director

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny — Producer

Would you believe I saw all three of these movies before I determined that something was wrong with this actor?  Here’s the biggest problem – Ben has some funny flicks under his belt.  Something About Mary, Along Came Polly, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Night at the Museum – but having good movies under your belt and believing you’re funny are two distinctly different things.  It’s important to note that in each one of the movies, he brings in some heavyweight actors and actresses; Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Steisand, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Anniston, Brett Farve

This movie, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, breaks the mold of bad films Ben has either produced, written or directed.  Ben just acts in this movie.

What made the original movie unique was the mystery of how everything came to life every evening and went to sleep come morning.  Ben spent time trying to get things back to normal for fear he would lose his job.  It was funny to see how he raced around trying to keep things in order.  It was funny to see how he analyzed situations so that he could either avoid a mishap or keep a mishap from happening.

This time, Ben doesn’t care one bit if furniture, fine art, stained glass windows, or any other priceless artifact is destroyed during the movie.  As a result, the comedic deadpan humor of the main character is lost.  At that point, it becomes an issue of how well the story is written.

The story isn’t bad, but it follows a method of writing that has been around far too long; “When in doubt, throw in another character.”  When Hank Azaria can’t resolve his problem with Ben Stiller, Hank brings in Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Al Capone.  The only character from the new batch that is slightly entertaining is the actor playing Napoleon.

The bottom line to this movie is simple.  If you have young kids, they’ll love it.  If you’re out on your first date after meeting someone online, you’ll get a sense of whether you should have a second date.  If you babysit on occasion, the DVD will be a “must” in the home.  If you’re looking to laugh your arse off in a movie theater, this is not the film to see.  I laughed more when I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater.

Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian is good enough to see, but not for $9.00 a person.  Rent it in three months!

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