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Review: Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Directed by: James Bobin

Premise: A sequel to the 2011 film The Muppets. Kermit the Frog is mistaken for criminal mastermind Constantine, and is wrongly jailed in a Russian prison camp. In the meantime, Constantine usurps Kermit’s place among the Muppets and intends to frame them for a burglary.

What Works: Muppets Most Wanted is a competent sequel. Part of the job of this film, beyond entertaining the audience, is to keep the franchise afloat and it manages to do that. This sequel to The Muppets is fast moving and keeps delivering gags at a steady pace. Something that has always distinguished the Muppets was a cheeky self-awareness and this film continues that trend, doing it especially well in the opening musical number, “We’re Doing a Sequel.” One detrimental element of the previous Muppets film that is fixed here was that picture’s overly earnest tone. The 2011 movie came across a little too safe, replaying some of the Muppets greatest hits, and it lacked the edginess that had distinguished the Muppet brand back in its heyday. Muppets Most Wanted takes some steps toward restoring that hip edge although it still has a way to go. Ironically, many of the strongest contributions to Muppets Most Wanted are not made by the Muppets at all but by the human actors. Kermit is locked away in a Russian prison camp overseen by a female commandant played by Tina Fey and she is the best element of this movie. Fey does a stereotypical Cold War-era Russian accent and she’s quite funny about it but impressively she is able to maintain that accent while yelling and singing, which is very difficult to do. Aside from Constantine, the other villain of Muppets Most Wanted is a conman played by Ricky Gervais. Gervais is mostly known for doing rude or R-rated comedy but he proves himself able to do family friendly work here and even though his singing is not especially impressive his dry humor complements the Muppet’s sense of humor. Muppets Most Wanted also teams Sam Eagle as an American CIA agent with Ty Burrell as a French detective. Their banter is a lot of fun and Burrell’s performance is an amusing homage to Peter Sellers’ as Inspector Clouseau in the original Pink Panther.

What Doesn’t: Muppets Most Wanted is a step down in quality from the previous Muppets picture. The main problem of the sequel is the story. This film borrows a lot from 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper but doesn’t do it nearly as well. What Muppets Most Wanted misses is a compelling relationship to center the movie around. The 2011 film did this quite well with the introduction of Walter and his integration into the Muppets crew. But the sequel shoves Walter and virtually all of the other Muppets to the wayside. Muppet movies are not renowned for their tight plotting, but the filmmakers of earlier movies turned that around and made it a source of charm. Muppets Most Wanted comes up short in that regard. The picture has plenty of gags, cameos, and songs but very little in this film is memorable. Part of the joy of the previous Muppet movie was reintroducing all of the characters. Having done that, the filmmakers of Muppets Most Wanted do not seem to know what to do with their cast. The story has the potential for some great gags since Constantine, while impersonating Kermit, allows the Muppets to do whatever they want in the show. But instead of creating fantastic set pieces for each of the Muppets, a lot of the chaos happens off screen and the set pieces are not very imaginative. Also disappointing are the songs. With the exception of the opening number, the music of Muppets Most Wanted is not very inspired and in some cases it comes across as filler.

Bottom Line: Muppets Most Wanted isn’t bad but it isn’t very memorable either. The movie is sufficiently entertaining but it isn’t quite up to the expectations viewers have for this franchise, especially in comparison to the Muppet movies of Frank Oz and Jim Henson.

Episode: #485 (April 6, 2014)