Rated PG for some mild action
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Steve Whitmire (voice), Eric Jacobson (voice), Dave Goelz (voice), Bill Barretta (voice), David Rudman (voice) and Tina Fey
Written By: James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller
Directed By: James Bobin
After floundering around in the 90’s with duds like Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space, The Muppets were miraculously brought back to life by Jason Segel in 2011, with the sort-of reboot, sort-of continuation of the series, simply titled The Muppets. More clever, self-aware and adult-oriented than ever before, The Muppets injected a much needed resurgence into a classic franchise that had somehow lost its way. The opening number of Muppets Most Wanted titled “They’ve Ordered a Sequel” humbly admits, “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good!” While they’re correct, this follow-up is still quite better than it could have been.
Stars Jason Segel and Amy Adams are absent, but the “first” film’s director and co-writer, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller, respectively, have returned – keeping this sequel in line with the ingenuity of its predecessor. The key to bringing the Muppets back to life seems to be the progressive decision of hiring filmmakers known for R-rated entertainment to helm what is essentially a family film. Bobin worked as a writer/director on HBO’s Da Ali G Show and Flight of the Conchords, while Stoller has co-written and directed such films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. No, the Muppets aren’t going full frontal (unless you consider that Kermit the Frog doesn’t wear pants) or improvising crude sexual humor – but Bobin and Stoller’s irreverent mentality is still present without compromising the sweet and innocent nature which the Muppets are so endearingly known for.
Muppets Most Wanted takes the gang on an international adventure involving a jewel-heist, an evil Kermit doppleganger named Constantine, a stay at a Russian Gulag prison camp – and of course, the Muppets putting on a show. The film is both a farcical caper and a whimsical musical – it’s also a bit of a mess. It’s sporadically plotted while attempting to shoe-in a dozen subplots for the various characters (there are dozens of Muppets after all), but the chaotic energy of it all does fit within the parameters of this bizarro universe – even if it doesn’t quite adhere to efficient cinematic storytelling.
This time around, more of the focus is spent on the Muppets as opposed to the human characters which is probably for the best. Ricky Gervais gets the most non-muppet screen-time as Constantine the Frog’s dastardly sidekick, Dominic Badguy. His last name is French, it’s pronounced “Badgee” and translates to “good man.” Badguy poses as a talent agent who wants to take the Muppet Show on a European tour, with each venue they perform at conveniently located next to a museum bursting with valuable artifacts to steal. These artifacts contain clues that will eventually lead Badguy and Constantine to the whereabouts of the Crown Jewel of England. The Muppets are too sweet and innocent to presume that anyone would be out to deceive them, so they never catch on that their weaselly new manager with the surname “Badguy”, might not be such a great guy.
When Kermit is kidnapped, thrown in jail and replaced by the almost identical looking Constantine (the only distinguishing difference being a mole on Constantine’s cheek), none of the other Muppets seems to notice, even though Constantine has a Russian accent and a sour demeanor unbefitting of the lovable Kermit. Are the Muppets really stupid or just profoundly naive? Perhaps a bit of both.
The prison side-plot is a giddy send-up of classic prison movies, namely The Shawshank Redemption, with Kermit displaying a Rita Hayworth style poster of Miss Piggy in his cell – which he attempts to carve an exit behind. Tina Fey is an asset as prison guard Nadya, a tough-as-nails innkeeper until she begins to fall for the little green guy. One of the more fun aspects of the film features Kermit doing what he does best – putting on a show – this time with the inmates played by tough guy actors like Ray Liotta (as Big Papa) and Danny Trejo (as Danny Trejo). Trejo playing himself is one of many examples of why the Muppets satisfy adults as much as the kids – being among a barrage of gags that will go over the youngsters heads.
A third connected subplot features Ty Burrell (TV’s Modern Family) as an Interpol agent investigating the museum thefts. He shares all of his screen-time with Sam the Eagle – working as a CIA Agent – in the character’s most prominent role to date. Burrell is funny with his riff on Inspector Clouseau – he and Sam the Eagle probably share the film’s best chemistry between man and Muppet. Spinoff anyone? Their musical number, “Interrogation Song”, is a standout.
Speaking of the musical numbers, Bret McKenzie (who won an Oscar for the first film) returns as songwriter/orchestrator, once again creating some very catchy tunes. The music isn’t quite as good this time and no track reaches the heights of the first film’s wonderful “Life’s a Happy Song”, but most of them work nonetheless.
Muppets Most Wanted is a lot of fun, but it would have been nice if it were funnier. It’s energetic and entertaining, but also the type of comedy that is humorous without being particularly laugh-out-loud funny. Still, for the adults in the audience – this is one of the more enjoyable PG-rated laughers with plenty of material and cameos to keep us entertained (such as Tarantino muse Christoph Waltz dancing “the Waltz”). Sure, it could have been better – but as the Muppets past history has shown, it could have been worse. For fans of the Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted is enough of a welcome return to the big-screen to warrant a recommendation.