Monday, March 24, 2014


"The Muppets" was one of the best films of 2011, brimming with life, inspiration and a magical feel-good air that was infectious and impossible not to love. "Muppets Most Wanted" isn't that movie, but it seems to know that, too. The clever, tongue-in-cheek opening number about sequels never being as good as the original makes the movie still very hard not to like, but by the end you also can't hide the feeling they were absolutely right. The first one was lightning in a bottle, the reinvention of a franchise and this teeters on the brink of merely holding up and paling in comparison.

And it starts with the premise. The opening number teases the idea of stories to pursue, with Ricky Gervais' character jumping in to suggest a world tour for the newly reunited Muppets gang. Of course, Gervais plays a guy named Dominic Badguy who insists he's a good guy, wanting only the best for the Muppets' success. Not the case. He teams up with a Kermit look-a-like, Constantine, to use the Muppets as a cover-up for their mastermind burglary scheme. Constantine switches places with Kermit, who gets locked up in a Russian gulag run by Tina Fey. Oh no!

I guess without Jason Segel co-writing the script with Nicholas Stoller (James Bobin returns to write and direct, too), this international crime caper plot is what they landed on, and it runs out of steam -- and most notably, jokes -- rather quickly. It also feels a little dated and not to mention odd. Ty Burrell plays an Interpol investigator, who resembles Inspector Clouseau from "The Pink Panther." He's a hilarious hoot, donning a French accent, while Fey is downright adorable as the gulag guard who secretly pines for Kermit. It's Gervais who phones it in, and unfortunately, it's Gervais and Constantine who get the majority of the screen time during the film's first and second acts.

The ill-conceived idea to place the emphasis on the villains leaves the poor Muppets hanging on a limb with Kermit separated far, far away. Bringing the gang back together again (again!) feels great by the film's end, but it's a bit tiring getting there. The songs, from Bret McKenzie, are still fun but are more forgettable than anything the first "Muppets" churned out, especially one Oscar-nominated tune in particular.

The cameos are fast and frequent -- blink, and you'll miss one -- but they feel flung at the screen, as if testing to see if any of them stick, as opposed to the original's team of cameos, which felt more special and sincere, a collective team effort to revive something cherished and great. For example, Usher shows up as, you guessed it, an usher, but the minute he walks off-screen, I can imagine the hefty check just waiting for him on a silver platter.

But even amid all the complaints, it's still light and entertaining kids' fare that only disappoints if you read too much into it (like I just did). Besides, if you look at the entire Muppets canon, this sure isn't bad for a seventh sequel.

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