Movie Mayhem – Muppets Most Wanted

I’ve always been a fan of the Muppets. From their first big screen adventure, the mixed-results of their adaptations, and their lackluster attempts at television movies, I always find the positive under all of that felt. They tried to resurrect the brand in prime-time with Muppets Tonight in the nineties (which introduced a couple of new characters that still appear in the new films), but it didn’t quite stick, and they floated off again into a void of irrelevance. So when Jason Segel announced that he was bringing the Muppets back to the big screen, I was excited… and not disappointed. Now we get Muppets Most Wanted, a sequel that isn’t quite as inspired or creative, but still fun and entertaining.

The film follows Kermit’s doppelganger, Constantine, who with his dastardly “Number Two,” Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), talk the Muppets  into going on a world tour of their revived Muppet Show so that they can use it as a cover for a series of robberies. To make it all work, Constantine frames Kermit (and takes his place) by plastering his distinctive mole on the unsuspecting frog, sending him back to the Russian Gulag from which Constantine had escaped.

With the success of the franchise reboot, a sequel was inevitable and the Muppets make note of it with the opening song, which acts as a bridge between the very end of the last film and the beginning of the new film (complete with Amy Adams and Jason Segel stand-ins). I’m not sure if it was simply my showing, or if the soundtrack was produced this way, but the song, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” was mixed horribly. The music drowned the lyrics out so much, I could barely hear any of it. The rest of the songs didn’t have this issue, which only helped to confirm that none of them were as catchy (or as original) as the tunes in previous incarnations.

The finale song isn’t even an original song. They regurgitate the song, “Together Again” (from Muppets Take Manhattan), and attempt to be clever by throwing in a second “again” to make the song, “Together Again, Again.” And that’s where most of the problems with the film lie — the creativeness and ingenuity of where the Muppets once were under the Henson name have been sanitized.

The absence of Jason Segel is evident, as the film lacks the joy that he brought to it. The reason that The Muppets worked to revive the brand was because Segel understood who the Muppets were and why they were so popular back in the seventies and eighties. He knew how to make the absurd humor and lighthearted chaos work; there was a fan boy quality to every meta-detail, making the film a tribute to fans like him, while giving voice to a fresh new generation.

Nothing in Muppets Most Wanted feels as authentic or affectionate. There are some very good moments, and the characters are all up to their same old tricks, but even though one of the writers from The Muppets (Nicholas Stoller) returned to co-write Muppets Most Wanted (along with The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted director James Bobin), it feels more like the producers grabbed whoever they could find (and afford) to rush a script through, forgoing the time to give it the heart it needed to capitalize on the success of its predecessor.

Which, in a weird way, actually seems fitting, since it’s exactly how Dominic Badguy talks the Muppets into accepting a world tour. In fact, the producers should have taken heed of what was being written, as when the Muppets rush into something they aren’t ready for (and with someone who doesn’t have their best intentions at heart), it all turns out to be one mistake after another. That’s not to say the film is a mistake, I just think it needed more time to be given the opportunity to become something special.

There is one great (but ultimately sad) moment that sums up what I’m trying to say. At one point, the Muppet crew learn that the new addition, Walter, has run away. They’re confused because they just spent an entire movie on how he joined the gang. Rizzo the Rat (and still my favorite character) steps up and agrees, saying they did so at the expense of other long-running series regulars, such as himself. It’s both a touching tribute to a character who deserves more attention, and a clever wink to the those fans who missed him in The Muppets.

Moments like these are what give the Muppets life, and there just weren’t enough of them in this film. A great example that lacked this specialness was the very beginning of the film. Had Amy Adams and Jason Segel actually agreed to cameo, they could have kicked the film off with an inspired bit of meta-awesomeness. But alas, whether they just didn’t want to do it, or the writers and producers didn’t even think to add it, their absence set the tone for the rest of the movie.

A tone that’s fun and light, and keeps your lips curled for most of the film, but which lacks the spark of ingenuity needed to stir up the big laughs. Even Tina Fey (as the uptight Gulag Warden) and Ty Burrell (as a bumbling Interpol agent) seem to be cashing in on their television personalities instead of attempting something fresh. They weren’t so much funny as they were “so-what?”

But for those that don’t know them or haven’t seen their respective programs, they won’t care much about this, or much of anything else I’ve just pointed out. This is a Muppet movie, thus all about the Muppets, and they do what they do best — make you feel warm and fuzzy inside for a couple of hours. There’s just something about them that, despite all of the issues, you simply can’t resist, and the touches of sweetness and cleverness that do work (like being able to tell Kermit and Constantine apart simply by covering up his mole) hit just the right pitch.

Muppets Most Wanted is one of those films that strides along at a steady pace of predictable antics, but doesn’t live up to the quality of its namesake. Still, it’s a good entry into the cannon (not nearly as good as the early works (or even Muppet Babies, for that matter), but better than Muppets From Space and some of their recent television stuff) and a movie I’m sure will be enjoyed for some time.

My Grade: B+

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Next week, new movies include Noah and Sabotage. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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