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Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

| March 30, 2014 | 1 Comments

The Muppets are overjoyed to find themselves in yet another sequel.  As their new movie Muppets Most Wanted opens, they not only acknowledge it but – in true Muppets fashion – they turn this fact into a production number.  The Muppets have always worn their self-referential style on their sleeves, so they are wise enough to admit during the opening song “We’re Making a Sequel” that the sequel is never as good as the original.

That’s partially true of Muppets Most Wanted, which is enjoyable but isn’t likely to go down in history as one of the Muppet’s high points.  It’s always great to see the old gang again.  For nearly 60 years, The Muppets have been like old friends from whom every visit is always a party, even when they didn’t seem to bring their A-game.

Muppets Most Wanted opens just moments after the end of 2011’s The Muppets.  This new film spins the gang off on a suspiciously ambitious world tour of their variety act by an overeager promoter named Dominic Badguy – pronounced “bædgee” with a French pronunciation – played by a very slippery Ricky Gervais.  He’s eager to get their show off to major cities like Berlin, Dublin and London, which the entire Muppet gang is ecstatic about save for Kermit, who is none-too-sure that this offer is on the level.

He’s right.  Dominic is a bad guy who’s scamming the Muppets while he attempts to pull off a world-wide heist with the help of a demented frog named Constantine, who bills himself as “The world’s most dangerous frog.”  Constantine is Kermit’s exact double except for a mole on his lip and mush-mouthed Slavic accent.  He is currently locked away in an ultra-secure Siberian gulag from which he escapes, and – through a series of unfortunate events – takes Kermit’s place while our favorite amphibian finds himself locked in Constantine’s cell.  The joke, of course, is that once the villainous frog covers the mole with green make-up none of the other Muppets realize that he’s not the real Kermit.

The best thing about Muppets Most Wanted is its energy level.  The movie has very few slow moments and even when a gag doesn’t work, you appreciate the level of enthusiasm.  The film’s best running gag is the amount of star cameos.  Cameos are as familiar to the Muppet enterprise as fish to the ocean, and this time they may have set a record.  Aside from Gervais, there’s also Tina Fey as the gulag commandant and Ty Burrell as a member of French Interpol who works with Sam the Eagle to catch Constantine.  Then there’s Tony Bennett, Ray Liotta, Christoph Waltz (doing the waltz), Danny Trejo, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Hugh Bonneville, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Frank Langella, James McAvoy, Miranda Richardson, Stanley Tucci and Usher (as an usher!)  I’m not sure, but I think they may have set a record this time.

What works in the best Muppet movies is when the plot serves as a hook on which to hang a great series of gags and guest star cameos.  Therefore the weakness of Muppets Most Wanted is that screenwriters Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin have taken a two-inch plot and tried to stretch it for five miles.  At 113 minutes the movie feels long for such a trite story idea.  Constantine, the villain, is interesting but a little of him goes a long away.  In fact, he’s the real star of the show.  Most of the other Muppets are caught in supporting roles.  The Muppets are best when the plot is thin enough to get out of their way.  Think of the original Muppet Movie back in 1979.  It was a series of gags hung on a thin story about Fozzie and Kermit picking up the gang on their way to make it in Hollywood.  And on their show, the madness of The Muppet’s anarchy was born out of Kermit’s attempt to wrangle these wild and wholly players in order to get the show up and running.

If I sound too grumpy about Muppets Most Wanted it may come from the fact that I’ve been a student of their formula since I was in Kindergarten.  I am as familiar with their act as I am with the letters in my own name, and there’s a rhythm to their comedy that clangs when it’s out of step.  For everything that works in Muppets Most Wanted there was something that doesn’t.  Still, the movie is entertaining.  What’s refreshing is that even over half a century you can still be entertained by The Muppets even when they aren’t at their most Muppetational.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Kids, Musical, Recent
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