Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian -- Film Review

Those creaky exhibits come to life once again in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," and this time around there's a little more life on display.

While its wildly successful 2006 predecessor (more than $250 million in North America alone) certainly struck a universal chord with that "what if?" fantasy premise, its wobbly execution left a lot of room for improvement.

Noticeable improvements have been made by returning director Shawn Levy and the writing team of Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.

Some of that frenetic running around has been replaced by inspired effects sequences and amusing riffs by the talented cast, especially new arrivals Hank Azaria as a less-than-menacing Egyptian pharaoh with a world domination complex and pistol Amy Adams, who makes for a particularly spirited Amelia Earhart.

That will likely translate into grown-ups enjoying this one more at the expense of their less-engaged kids, but the upshot is still certain to be another smash for Fox.

Having traded in his flashlight for a profitable career as a gadget inventor, Ben Stiller's Larry Daley finds himself drawn back to his former job as a night security guard upon finding out many of his old Museum of Natural History cohorts have been crated up and shipped off to the Smithsonian archives in Washington.

To make matters worse, that powerful golden tablet has awakened their new neighbors, including Akhmenrah's blustery big brother Kahmunrah (Azaria), who has formed a de facto axis of evil with Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and a grainy, black and white Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), intent on unleashing the Army of the Underworld.

Granted access to shooting in the sprawling Smithsonian complex, the production is focused primarily on the Air & Space Museum, the Smithsonian Castle and the Lincoln Memorial.

That considerably larger canvas has inspired Levy, his writers and performers to up their game, but while there's more to enjoy here, the end result still feels more like a bunch of bits haphazardly strung together than a satisfyingly self-contained whole.

Also responsible for some of the better bits are Bill Hader as an insecure General Custer and an unbilled Jonah Hill as a diligent Smithsonian security guard.

On the effects end, visual effects supervisor Dan Deleeuw creates CG poetry in motion, bringing to life iconic works by the likes of Edward Hopper, Roy Lichtenstein and, most effectively, Alfred Eisenstaedt's V-Day photograph, "The Kiss."

If ever a sequence deserved a pair of 3-D glasses, this would be the one.