Family Filmgoer: Movie Reviews With Kids in Mind

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) meets a very tall Abraham Lincoln in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) meets a very tall Abraham Lincoln in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." (Twentieth Century Fox)

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By Jane Horwitz
Friday, May 22, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG, 105 minutes)

Icons of history and art are tossed together with bits of pop culture like so much salad in this lively yet oddly charmless sequel to "Night at the Museum" (PG, 2006). The salad gets served up along the Mall inside famous Smithsonian museums. Though the movie relies too heavily on clever special effects and an excess of plot, it will keep kids 6 and older engaged, if not in stitches. The seemingly improvised comic riffs by star Ben Stiller and other cast members seem more geared to adults. The youngest will miss many historical references until parents explain, but they will recognize the Jonas Brothers' voices behind a trio of singing plaster cupids that comes to life. The movie's facts are often deliberately scrambled and/or dumbed down, but it could spark kids' interest in everything from the history of aviation and ancient Egypt to the Tuskegee Airmen, Albert Einstein, Native American and Western history (Sacajawea and General Custer turn up) and art (famous paintings, sculptures and photographs come to life).

As in the first film, there are moments that could briefly scare the youngest kids, as when the T. rex skeleton roars or the giant squid slithers out of a crate, though both critters are friendly. There are ancient Egyptian warriors -- human bodies topped with shrieking eagles' heads -- marching out of a tomb exhibit after the evil pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria with a Boris Karloff accent and a lisp) awakens them. Younger kids may be spooked to see the huge sculpture of Abraham Lincoln (also Azaria) rise up from his memorial chair and talk. Little kids may want to duck during a climactic scene at the National Air and Space Museum when early airplanes zoom around.

Larry Daley (Stiller), who in the first film was the hapless guard at the fictionalized Natural History Museum in New York, is now an inventor who sells gadgets. He hears from the still-clueless museum director (Ricky Gervais) that all the old exhibits (which came to life only at night while Larry was on duty) are being mothballed and sent to the Smithsonian for storage. One evening, Larry says goodbye to his pal Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) but later gets a desperate call from the miniature cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) warning that Kahmunrah is wreaking warlike havoc at the Smithsonian. Larry heads to Washington, sneaks in and, with the help of a spunky Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), saves the day.

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PG-13

"Terminator Salvation." This new chapter in the "Terminator" series, with its post-nuclear landscape and unremitting mayhem and gloom, could give dystopian science fiction a bad name. Teens may find the intensity gripping, but if they don't know the earlier films (all R's), this one will be a hard slog. "Terminator Salvation" is grimly violent, though with relatively little gore and rare profanity. A female character faces the briefly implied possibility of sexual assault. There are huge gun battles and crashes. Killer robots from the program that aims to destroy humanity have glowing red eyes. They hold human prisoners underground. In a prologue set in 2003, death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) donates his body to science before dying by lethal injection (shown). Cut to 2018, after the nuclear holocaust unleashed by Skynet. Pockets of human resistance fighters get radio pep talks from John Connor (Christian Bale), their prophesied leader. John knows from mother Sarah's audio tapes that he'll meet a teenage Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who one day will be sent back in time to protect her and, with her, conceive John. John also encounters the now-bionic Marcus Wright. Can John trust him?

"Every Little Step." Emotionally involving and full of fine bits of song and dance, this terrific documentary offers teens who may follow "American Idol" or take part in their high school drama program a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what professional performers go through. "Every Little Step" follows the tortuous audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line," focusing on a few people who either make it or don't. It also delves into reasons why the late director-choreographer Michael Bennett created the show back in the 1970s. There is profanity and discussion of sexuality.

"Angels & Demons." Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) again uncovers secrets that make the Vatican queasy, only in "Angels & Demons," it's the Vatican that has invited him inside. The pope has died, and several cardinals have been abducted. The kidnapper has left clues and threats to blow up Vatican City. So beginneth another leaden thriller based on a bestseller by Dan Brown. Many high-schoolers will enjoy following the clues and seeing all the (re-created) church interiors and Renaissance art. As he did with Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" (PG-13, 2006), Ron Howard directs with a heavy hand and a lot of pedantry, this time about a secret 18th-century group, the Illuminati, that fought the church's censorship of science. "Angels & Demons" has more violence and disturbing images than "The Da Vinci Code" and may be too intense for middle-schoolers. We see victims with raw brands on their chests or burning alive (not graphically), a corpse being eaten by a rat (phobic alert) and a bloodied eyeball. There are shootings and mild profanity.

"Star Trek." Teens not familiar with the 1960s TV show or films ought still to have a fine time at this "Star Trek" prequel. It works just fine as a popcorn flick and as a myth-origin tale for purists. It recounts in boisterous and occasionally jumbled detail how the young and frisky James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) met as junior officers on the starship USS Enterprise. Fine for teens, the film will also work for many kids 10 to 12, but some may be unsettled by the space battles, the vengeful Romulans' ominous-looking ship and its planet-killing drill. There is a hint of torture, intense fighting and an implied impalement, as well as mild sexual humor, a brief nongraphic sexual situation and rare mild profanity. Spock struggles with emotions when his Vulcan father (Ben Cross) and human mother (Winona Ryder) are in peril. And thanks to a "disrupted time continuum," young Kirk meets an old Spock (Leonard Nimoy, who else?), who offers crucial advice.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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