Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Review: "Muppets Most Wanted"

Muppets Most Wanted is essentially a direct sequel to 2011's The Muppets, with this one literally picking up where the last left off.  While I am exceptionally glad to find the Muppets back on movie screens, both Most Wanted, and even their last outing in 2011, seemed to be missing that spark that made me fall in love with the Muppets to begin with.  Perhaps it's the absence of any Henson actively involved in the making-of process, or perhaps it's the fact that these past two Muppet films have been the first bigscreen features without the original voice of Miss Piggy and Fozzie, Frank Oz.  I don't really know what it is, but Muppets Most Wanted never quite manages to reach the Muppets' previous highs.  Don't get me wrong, Muppets Most Wanted is a fun and entertaining movie for the most part, it just seems like it is trying too hard to be a Muppet movie, rather than letting it flow naturally.

In Most Wanted, we find Kermit and the gang embarking on a world tour with their shady new manager, Dominic Badguy (played by Ricky Gervais).  Badguy's not so subtle name is a perfect clue as to what happens next, when the world's most dangerous frog, Constantine, breaks out of prison and switches places with Kermit.  Badguy and Constantine embark on a massive jewel heist using the Muppet's world tour as the perfect cover, and Kermit, trapped in a Russian prison, must find a means of escape if he's to save the day.

There are definitely shades of The Great Muppet Caper here and there, but it feels more like an imitator of that classic Muppet adventure, rather than an entirely new entry in the Muppet canon.  Here's the thing with Muppets Most Wanted, the representations of the characters are spot on for the most part, and many of the jokes are quite funny, in particular Dominic and Constantine constantly going back-and-forth about Dominic being number 2 to Constantine's number 1, but it just feels like the filmmakers are still trying to justify why they were chosen to make Muppet movies in the first place.  It's almost as if the filmmakers had a checklist of all the things they felt needed to be in a Muppet movie (song-and-dance numbers, celebrity cameos, etc.) and just threw the whole kitchen sink in.

There's never a real clear focus to the film, with it often feeling a touch haphazard in how it jumps from joke to joke, with not every gag landing with a laugh.  Then there's the abruptness that the songs often start with, with very little build up to where it actually feels like a song was warranted at that moment in the film.  And then there's the celebrity cameos, which are just getting too much.  When they did them in the original Muppet movies, they were usually done very sparingly, and the cameos were of such a high level of celebrity, that when you saw them, everyone immediately knew who they were.  I love that Danny Trejo finally got into a Muppet movie, but how many people will really recognize James McAvoy or Stanley Tucci when they pop up?  A far cry from the days when Bob Hope and Orson Welles had Muppet cameos.  Of course, I really don't want this to sound like I hated Muppets Most Wanted, I just think disappointment is more of my feeling.

Muppets Most Wanted is an okay movie, it's just not a good Muppet movie.  When the bar has been set so high, it's hard to reach it.  Really, the film suffers from the same problem that most modern comedies suffer from, a sense of ADD and a barrage of jokes that are not all that witty.  When the Muppets revert to a few bathroom jokes in this film, all I could do was groan inside.  However, this does make it all the more refreshing when a few witty jokes actually crop up.  I laughed my head off when Fozzie impersonated a bear skin rug, as well as when they referenced The Seventh Seal and Silence of the Lambs.  It's in these areas of cleverness that Muppets Most Wanted is the most fun and feels like the Muppets of old, I just wish they'd give Rizzo the Rat more than one measly line of dialogue.  What's up Disney?  Your mascot's a mouse, but you can't give a rat some love?

I give Muppets Most Wanted a C!

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