Sunday, May 24, 2009

Subtraction by multiplication

There's a billboard around town in LA -- and as much as I searched for it on google images, I couldn't find it -- that shows no less than 27 characters from Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian standing alongside each other.

Uh oh.

Okay, that's not nearly the only reason to say "uh oh" about this movie. But it's the one I'm choosing to focus on today.

The sequel to Night at the Museum follows exactly the formula followed by hundreds of its sequel predecessors: Bigger! Better! More!

And, a Heckuva Lot More Characters!

The 27 characters appearing on these billboards are meant to show you exactly how much comedy bang you'll get for your buck. If you're not a big Ben Stiller fan, well, there's Owen Wilson. If you're not so into him, try Hank Azaria. Or what about Bill Hader? If you're old-fashioned and you like impersonations of celebrities who reached their creative peaks in the 1980s, there's even Robin Williams to turn to.

But this kind of thing is a problem, especially in a comedy. Each actor will need his 5-10 minutes of screen time to peddle his (or in some cases her) shtick. What does that do to your script? Yep, it bends and buckles and threatens to pop the brads right out of the pages. (I wish I could let that reference go without further explanation, but the brad is the small brass thingamamabob that holds a script together, requiring three of them to do the job completely. See, now you know how clever that previous comment was).

I could name numerous other films where the sequels have been sunk by a delirious excess of characters, but you probably don't need me to. Most ensemble superhero movies tend to have this problem, not to mention Shrek movies and Harry Potterses. And it's not always that the movie goes from passable to terrible, just that you walk away from it wondering what the point was to even include certain characters, because there was never a possibililty the plot would give them enough to do to justify their presence.

I shouldn't -- and really don't -- care one way or another how many characters there are in a Night of the Museum sequel, except the movie holds a somewhat unique place in my filmgoing history. It's one of the few movies I've seen that actually saved itself in the end.

Almost every halfway decent movie you see has an excellent first half, then falls apart at the end. Strangely, the opposite occurred for me when I watched Night at the Museum. I rolled my eyeballs for the first 45 minutes of that movie, then somehow got into the groove of it in the third act. I still ranked it somewhere in the bottom half of the movies I saw that year, but for that unusual late improvement, I will always remember it.

Can Night at the Museum 2 do the same thing? I doubt I'll ever find out. If I'd ever really wanted to see it, any desire would have been killed by a character they don't show on the poster, but are showing like crazy on the ads. Any of you heard the following line of dialogue maybe once -- or 132 times -- in the last few weeks?

"Hey, check out the gun show over here! Boom! Boom! Fiyah-powahhh!"

'Nuff said.

Tune in some other time for my rant against using the voices of delusional blowhard New Yorkers for characters in kids movies.

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