Look, the original Night at the Museum was no work of brilliance. But it had enough affection, amusing jokes and special-effects wonder for an inoffensive family flick. The sequel, however, is as unimaginative as it is sloppy. With all the history and cultural iconography at its disposal, Battle of the Smithsonian relies on Einstein bobbleheads and cherubs that sport Jonas Brothers mugs (and pipes) to generate pop culture laughs. Worse, it trades in the kind of idiotic (and historically insulting) creativity that recasts genocidal General Custer as a goofy come-from-behind Bill Hader hero. There are a few mildly clever moments (Ben Stiller and Amy Adams in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed V-J Day kissing couple photo; a giant Abe Lincoln offers dating advice), but screenwriter Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon can’t keep the rules of their own magic straight, no less deliver a decently plotted script. Not only do they allow the tablets to animate all sorts of inanimate objects without reason, they forget Stiller’s son halfway through the film, first introducing him as his computer-savvy partner then dropping him from the screen altogether.
Deep beneath its canopy of dumb slapstick, pop culture winks, and scatological ha-has, lies the existential dilemma at the heart of Dance Flick; that is, what sucks worse? The silly teen dance flicks or the lame spoofs of them? Cheesy flicks about dance-offs all get ground into a greasy pile of hamburger by the cooks of comedy fast food, the Wayans. It’s truly a family affair, with a credit list loaded with Wayan’s, from Keenan, Shawn, Damien, Kim to the lead actor, Damon Jr., a spitting image of his pop, though a fairly pale copy comedically. The shame is that once upon a time these guys packed a satiric punch. While there’s a hint of that here, there’s also a spiteful strain of misogyny and homophobia that ruins the whole vibe.
The plot couldn’t be simpler: Three fortysomething siblings struggle to manage their mother’s estate after her death. Though the family’s home is storied and the inheritance filled with valuable art works (courtesy their great uncle, a celebrated artist), only eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling), a French economist, longs to keep the estate and heirlooms in his family. This puts him at odds with his New York art dealer sister, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), and younger businessman brother, Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), the manager of a sneaker factory in China. Both, expatriates, see little value in maintaining a past to which they are no longer part.