The entire Muppet gang returned to pop culture relevance in the clever, funny and heart-warming trip down memory lane known as the 2011 film, The Muppets. I had wrote at the time that it was "the best family film of the year" and being stricken with Muppet-fever, had proudly proclaimed that "The Muppets are forever." Simply put, it was an awesome piece of nostalgia, a "love-letter to The Muppets themselves." Well sadly - disappointingly - in Muppets Most Wanted (opening today), The Muppets are reduced to the same lame and tired status that cast them out of the spotlight in the first place.
The sequel is never as good as the original, a fact that The Muppets even point out in the incredible, hilarious opening number of Muppets Most Wanted, a scene that literally picks up right where the previous film had left off. Even though the Muppet scientist, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, points out that this is actually the group's seventh sequel (referencing their first big-screen appearance in the 1979 classic, The Muppet Movie). It was a promising start that would unfortunately fade almost immediately as the film segued into its second scene.
The plot of this new one is straight from a seventies cartoon and feels just as stale. Building on The Muppets new-found success in the first film, a new agent, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), proposes they take their show on the road to find international fame. It's all part of a plot by an escaped Muppet villain, Constantine, who just so happens to look exactly like Kermit the Frog, save for a giant mole on his upper lip (and a strong Russian accent). He plans to kidnap Kermit and replace him, then use the Muppets' traveling show as a cover to steal a series of incredibly valuable artifacts from around the globe.
With Kermit gone, the others barely notice. Kermit is thrown into a Russian gulag, ran by Nadya (Tina Fey), while he waits for his friends to rescue him. Sam the Eagle teams up with an Interpol agent, Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) to investigate the robberies.
This is technically a musical, as was the last one, with music once again crafted by one half of the Flight of the Conchords comedy duo, Bret McKenzie (the other half, Jermaine Clement, appears in the film as a convict at Kermit's gulag). But missing are any memorable songs whatsoever. A huge letdown, since the last film won an Oscar for the clever "Man or Muppet." Sure, the prior film had a few duds as well (Chris Cooper rapping, anyone?), but these new stinkers reek much more potently, especially because they are surrounded by overall material that doesn't quite manage to lift it up or hide any of it.
Gone also is most of the self-referential humor found in the first film, as well as any sense of inventiveness or purpose. Although there are celebrity cameos galore, none of them really wow us and most of the human actors - Gervais, Fey and Burrell, namely - are totally ineffective and stripped of their comedic strengths. Burrell and Fey both stuck with horribly cliched foreign accents? Ugh.
Although the plot is thin and uninspired, there are other key problems too. Who decided it would be a good idea to shelve Kermit for a good part of the middle portion of the film? Kermit overall just seemed...off. His voice even - once voiced by Jim Henson himself and more recently handled by Steve Whitmire - just didn't seem like Kermit. Also, the Muppet hero from the first film, Walter, is here, but is given little to do and is shoved into the background.
But hey, these are The Muppets. Towards the end the film slightly improves - marginally - and the gang carries with them their usual dose of old-fashioned, harmless fun. They always seem to come together as a family. Full of oddballs, they exude a relatable and loveable aura that makes me forgive even the worst of concocted plots. If they can survive Muppets from Space and Muppet Treasure Island, they can most definitely survive Muppets Most Wanted.
What a shame though, to so strongly return to the spotlight only to run out of steam so quickly. The Lego Movie and its recently announced sequel take notice: Movies should have a purpose if they are going to be successful and not just follow characters. Sure we like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Fozzie, but its when they're given something meaningful to do, that's when we love them.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Adventure
Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated PG
Starring : Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, The Muppets
Co-Written & Directed by James Bobin (The Muppets)
Opens locally on Friday, March 21, 2014 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time