Face-slapping Capuchin monkey. Theodore Roosevelt on a horse. Woolly Mammoth running past Attila the Hun.
Either this is the sequel to “Night at the Museum,” or I’m having one of those dreams after eating too much cheese before bedtime.
In the 2006 hit comedy, Ben Stiller plays Larry, a night guard at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. He learns the after-hours secret of the place: The exhibits come to life at night, thanks to an ancient Egyptian thingamajig.
Since then, Larry has invented a glow-in-the-dark flashlight that has made him rich. He is shocked to learn that his museum buddies are about to be shipped off to storage at the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C.
The stage is set, as they say. And what follows is almost exactly the same kind of kid-oriented, slapsticky mayhem that the first film offered.
Larry runs into some new buddies at the Smithsonian: Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), who’s been hanging around the Air &Space museum, and General Custer (Bill Hader), and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest).
There’s trouble, too. The Egyptian thingamajig has re-animated an Egyptian pharaoh, played by Hank Azaria. He wants to rule the world.
Azaria cuts loose with the movie’s funniest performance, riffing with Stiller and borrowing the lisping yet menacing voice of Boris Karloff. But what happened with the brilliant Christopher Guest? His scenes must have ended up on the cutting-room floor.
The other standout is “Superbad” guy Jonah Hill, who brings down the house with a single scene, as a security guard with a hostility issue.
Amy Adams is a talented actress, but she can’t get much going. These movies are not conceived for memorable female characters.
Returning to the cast are Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Robin Williams (he’s Teddy Roosevelt, reduced to a couple of sequences). Everybody’s generally a little funnier than they were in the first movie.
In fact, the movie itself is a little better than the original, mostly because the actors have more room. This one feels less dominated by huge special effects … although the business of Abraham Lincoln getting up and striding out of his monument is pretty sweet.
And if digital effects are going to be rampant, why not use them for something as cool as great works of art coming to life?
Thanks to the Egyptian thingamajig, a Jackson Pollock starts squiggling around, Rodin’s Thinker un-furrows his brow and the old boy in “American Gothic” hands over his pitchfork. Now there’s the premise for another sequel.