Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
This sequel to the highly successful “Night at the Museum” finds Ben Stiller, once a night museum guard in the first film, as a thriving businessman. But after he gets ahold of the news that the museum where he met the historical-figures-turned-to-life is to be closed, he feels like he must do something in order to repay them for inspiring him to do something better with his life. More conflict ensue when Stiller gets a call from Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson), obviously in danger because Kahmunrah (the hilarious Hank Azaria) and his Egyptian army wants the artifact which turns everything in a museum into life to pursue his dream of world domination. Like the first installment, what I love about this picture is its energy. It’s not afraid to put disparate and random elements into the picture so it constantly surprised me. If I were to pick highlights from the film, I would definitely pick any scene when Stiller and Amy Adams (as the charming Amelia Earhart) would talk because they do have genuine chemistry. By the end of the movie, I wanted to know what would happen between them even though we all know that she’s going to turn into a statue when the sun rises. I would also point out that one scene when the both of them decided to jump into a popular photograph (a soldier/sailor and a woman kissing during the end of a war) and everything turned into black and white. During those scenes, I felt like I was watching more than a family-friendly film with funny one-liners. Having Azaria and his Axis of Evil (Steve Coogan as Octavius, Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible, and Jon Bernthal as Al Capone) was absolutely brilliant because of his well-timed sense of humor. Every time he spoke (lisp and all), I couldn’t help but laugh because of that one scene where he (too enthusiastically) declared, “I have… come back… to life!” That bit when he tried to decide whether Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch were evil enough to join his team was pretty darn amusing. Still, I wished that Rami Malek (as Ahkmenrah) was in it more because he really was very funny in the first movie. His increased appearance would’ve also made sense because his older brother (Azaria) was the main villain here. Yes, the slapstick is still present (though in lesser amount compared to the first) but I really didn’t mind it because everything was happening all at once. The historical and pop culture figures may have been portrayed in a cliché manner but I think that’s half the fun of it. I say this one is just as good as the original even though it feels like it doesn’t have a profound story, just one funny scene after another. If they do make a second sequel, I’ll still be interested in watching it.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Some people claimed that this was better than the original “Madagascar” flick but I found it to be on the same level–funny here and there but doesn’t add up to anything genuinely deep. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer lend their voices once again as Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe, respectively. The animal pals wanted to return to New York’s Central Park Zoo but their plane crashed in the middle of an African animal reserve. In there, each of them find a niche, at least for a little while, until they eventually started questioning their identities and what was really important to them. I had the same problems with this film as I did with its predecessor. I thought it started out really great but then after the thirty-minute mark, I found myself not caring and questioned how far I was into the movie. The pacing began to feel a little too slow for my liking and I noticed more and more the film’s glaring flaws. While the picture provided a healthy amount of pop culture references, it did not have enough originality to be more than just another wannabe “Shrek.” Just when I thought it was going to start delving more into the characters’ motivations and inner fears, some random thing would appear on screen and it left me frustrated. What kept me from going off the deep end, however, was its interesting use of word play. Some of those things may go over kids’ heads but adults should get it. I just wished that the story was much stronger. At times I thought I was watching a really bad sequel of “The Lion King” instead of an animated film that has a life of its own. If there happens to be another sequel for the “Madagascar” franchise, I hope the filmmakers tone down the jokes that have nothing to do with its universe and focus more on the emotions rather than the obvious slapstick consisting of jokes related to bodily functions. I know that this is mostly aimed for kids and some of the kids I’ve asked who have seen it said they liked it. Ultimately, I’m giving it a mediocre rating because it really didn’t try to step outside of its comfort zone.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
This is not as funny as everyone made it to be. I thought it spent too much of its time showing people shooting guns and not enough time telling Hollywood jokes. For a two-hour film, I thought it would reach some sort of balance. Written and directed by Ben Stiller, he has some really funny sketches such as the fake trailers prior to the main feature, Robert Downey Jr. as a method actor, Tom Cruise as the over-the-top movie mogul, and not to mention the Oscar scene. Other than those few elements, I simply chuckled through the rest (if they were at least somewhat funny). Jack Black and Ben Stiller weren’t as funny as they could have been. Compared to Downey Jr. and Cruise, Black and Stiller were trying too hard to get noticed; instead of enhancing the experience, it became distracting. But I appreciated the cameos from Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Lance Bass, and Alicia Silverstone. They made me pay attention when nothing was going on on screen. What made this movie slightly above average at times was its self-awareness. It’s unabashed when it comes to making references to war pictures like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket.” I love the scene where Downey Jr. recalled the films and actors that focus on mental retardation: Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” and Sean Penn in “I Am Sam.” If they would have appeared, it would have been that much better. But what really did not work for me was the jungle scenes. When people are shooting guns and running away from the artillery, it becomes chaotic. Those “action” scenes feel like fillers when the jokes are not in the foreground. This is supposed to be a comedy but I didn’t see the comedy behind the violence. Perhaps if this had been a dark comedy film, it would’ve worked… but it wasn’t so it didn’t. The story becomes slow and it feels like the actors are not reaching their full potential because they are left to just run around screaming. If this movie would have been tilted toward the show business instead of the actual war scenes, I think I would’ve enjoyed it that much more.