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‘Museum’ Sequel Treads Familiar Ground

night-at-museumBreak out the movie-sequel cliche of your choice — leave well enough alone; been there, done that; go to the well once too often; whatever — and apply it comfortably to "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."

It's not a bad movie. Just an unnecessary one.

Despite offering a few new characters, the sequel to "Night at the Museum" does nothing the first film didn't do better, with the exception of letting Hank Azaria go nuts with the role of Kahmunrah, the evil older brother of Pharaoh Ahkmenrah from the original. Azaria can't be on-screen enough; unfortunately, he can't be on-screen all the time, because it's not Kahmunrah's story.

Instead, it is once again the story of Larry Daley (Ben Stiller). He's now an as-seen-on-TV gadget mogul (the glow-in-the-dark flashlight actually looks cool), having left his days as a night-watchman at the Museum of Natural History behind. He still likes his friends there, the displays that come to life, but with thumbs permanently attached to his Blackberry, it's hard to find time for everything.

Sounds like someone needs to evaluate what really makes him happy.

Bad news: Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais, welcome in his return) informs Larry on a rare visit that the exhibits are being taken down, replaced by high-tech displays. The originals will be shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Larry wants the exhibits back, of course, but there's no big hurry. That is, until tiny Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) calls in a panic. The tablet that brings the displays to life is at the Smithsonian, too. Fine, except they include Kahmunrah, an angry man always passed over for his younger brother. He's been stewing for 3,000 years, and sees this as his moment to take over the world.

He'll need help, of course, help that arrives in the form of Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest, criminally underused), Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) and their assorted minions. Kahmunrah needs Larry to translate the tablet, basically, so that he can unleash undead warriors.

Larry's not so hot on the idea, understandably, but events conspire to make him comply. He reluctantly enlists the aid of Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), whose insistence on talking like a wise-cracking character out of a '30s screwball comedy is so annoying even Larry has to comment on it.

Too bad, because Adams can be delightful. And while she does muster up plenty of pluck, everyone is overshadowed by Azaria, whose Kahmunrah is one of those characters who has grand ambition — it doesn't get much grander than world domination — but can't quite figure out how to realize it. If his intelligence matched his ego, maybe he'd get somewhere, but he wouldn't be nearly as funny.

Old favorites like Octavius (Steve Coogan) are joined by such newcomers as Gen. George Custer (Bill Hader). The movie gets a lot of use out of such Smithsonian highlights as the National Air and Space Museum; perhaps the coolest new gimmick is gallery artwork coming to life, though the bit where Larry and Amelia jump into the famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse at the end of World War II has something of a "Last Action Hero" feel to it.

Then again, the whole movie has the feel of something familiar — namely the original, available for rental everywhere. There's nothing wrong with "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," exactly. There's just nothing, outside of Azaria's hilarious turn, that improves upon the original.

Rated PG for mild action and brief language.


NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN (PG)

Two stars (Fair)

Ben Stiller heads to Washington, D.C. to save his museum-display friends from the evil, hilarious Hank Azaria. Nothing wrong with this remake, particularly, but with the exception of Azaria's performance, there's nothing here the first one didn't do better. Directed by Shawn Levy. Twentieth Century-Fox Film, 105 minutes.

On the Web: www.nightatthemuseummovie.com, official Web site

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