'Night at the Museum' is smartly silly fantasy flick

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Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian'

3 out of 4 stars. Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Owen Wilson. Now playing at the West Theater.

Slap-happy capuchin monkeys. An octopus who likes to hug. An infomercial with George Foreman.

What more could you want in a movie?

No need to answer because "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" answers that rhetorical question over and over.

The life of Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is going well - as the CEO of his own company, his career couldn't be going better, though he does still miss working for a smaller-paying job as a night watchman for New York's Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come to life at sundown.

When he learns that the museum is downsizing, he is moderately concerned, as most of the displays are shipped into storage in Washington. But when Larry receives word from his friends that they are in trouble, he immediately heads to their location in the Smithsonian Institute.

The multi-building museum has been experiencing rejuvenation thanks to the magical tablet of Egyptian royal Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), accidentally shipped with the rest of the New York crowd. The young pharaoh's older brother, Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), is the source of the strife as he plans to use the tablet for nefarious purposes, and only Larry and his unique blend of ingenuity and dumb luck can stop him.

As with his previous performance, Stiller is but a small part of the mayhem which goes on after the moon comes up. Still, he manages to play off as well as ever, especially against his partner in his quest, Amy Adams as pioneering aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whose Hepburn-esque persona never gets old. That's moxie for you!

"The Simpsons" vocal actor Azaria employs multiple intonations - besides the lisping affectation of Kahmunrah, he also voices a dimwitted personality for the Rodin sculpture "The Thinker," as well as a noble, booming tone for Honest Abe himself as the tablet even works on the Lincoln Memorial.

Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan return as feisty figurines cowboy Jedediah and Roman general Octavius, respectively, in addition to Robin Williams as not one, but two manifestations of Teddy Roosevelt.

With all the favorites, there is still room for more characters: Bill Hader as impulsive, disaster-prone Gen. George Custer; Jonah Hill as dopey Smithsonian guard Brandon - pronounced "Brundon"; the Jonas brothers as a trio of pesky, singing cherub statuettes; and Eugene Levy as a cadre of chatty Einstein bobble-head dolls, just to name a few.

Just like its predecessor, this film strives to be educational without being too preachy - is there such a word as "teachy?"

The big-budget chaos is ably handled by director Shawn Levy, who keeps an even keel showcasing everything in the museum from avant-garde art to Archie Bunker's trademark wingback chair.

This is due in so small part to the story.

Screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon weave a good yarn, though a few too many jokes will soar over the heads of younger viewers - oddly appropriate since the pair also portray the Wright brothers.

Nonetheless, this is a grand family film - perhaps it's not as enlightening as a day at the actual Smithsonian, but there are numerous effective messages at hand, not the least of which is the importance of interweaving the past and present, which is the very essence of history.

When so many summer movies strive to be as dumb as possible, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" works to be informational and fun.

Impossible you say? Well, when was the last time you saw historical figures like Al Capone, Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon get into a slap fight?

Now playing at the West Theater.

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