Muppets Most Wanted begins right where the last movie ended. No, not on the last scene of the last movie, but with the ending of the filming of the last scene of the last movie. Because meta.
So Kermit (Steve Whitmire) and the gang gather to figure out what they're going to do now—and they quickly, through song and dance, decide that making a sequel is the obvious thing to do. And, as the song points out, everybody knows that sequels are never as good as the original. Which ends up being a sadly prophetic joke.
The structure of the movie is simple: It's half heist movie and half prison movie. On the heist side, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) shows up out of nowhere offering to manage the troupe on a world tour. Kermit thinks they're moving too fast but after Dominic produces a sold-out crowd and rave reviews at a major Berlin venue, everybody begins to look to him for leadership and away from Kermit.
The plot takes its turn when Constantine (Matt Vogel), the world's most dangerous frog, escapes from a Siberian gulag. Turns out he is a Kermit lookalike (except for a distinctive mole) and working in cahoots with Dominic on a major heist requiring visits to various great European cities. Dominic and Constantine quickly arrange for Kermit to be arrested in a case of mistaken identity and sent back to Siberia. So the heist half is set up.
On the prison half, Kermit ends up confronting the warden, Nadya (Tina Fey), through several escape attempts. Eventually he is put in charge of the gulag's annual talent show, as Nadya isn't pleased with their past efforts. Et voila: prison half.
As revealed in my review for The Muppets, the 2011 film starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams, I've never been a great fan of the Muppet oeuvre. However, at least that movie had energy in its effort, even if it didn't particularly do much for me.
Muppets Most Wanted suffers in a couple ways. First, an almost exclusive focus on Muppet characters while not allowing them to be characters. Constantine is the only Muppet that we get to know anything about, even though it is mostly cardboard. All the other Muppets just pop in and out of frame with a line or two to reinforce their archetypical role within the group. It's probably not good that the most engaged character is Sam the Eagle (Eric Jacobson).
Three humans get significant screen time: Ricky Gervais gets one song and almost no moments in which to be funny. Ty Burrell is a French police inspector teamed up with Sam to investigate the heist. He actually gets some jokes, but how funny they are will depend on how funny you consider bad French accents and jokes about European vacation policy. Sadly, his best bit has been prominently featured in TV ads (and edited to have snappier timing).
Rounding out the trio is Tina Fey running the gulag with a bad Russian accent and a love for Broadway show tunes. Her scenes provide the best energy but feel extraneous, as nothing involving her actually moves the plot forward. Almost every scene at the gulag could be cut from the movie (even if that's where the best jokes are) without any impact on the story.
The rest of the time, the movie is just a long game of Spot the Celebrity. Dazzle friends with an elbow and whisper of "That's the guy from Flight of the Conchords, no, no, the other one." Amaze back with a soto vocce "I think the ballerina is that girl from Hanna, I don't know how to pronounce her name." Giggle at Usher playing an usher. Struggle with the ennui of wondering, "Is that actually just an extra or am I getting too old to know who all the celebrity cameos are?"
Though they also felt listless to me, the movie is chock-a-block with musical numbers. The best of which are a duet involving Dominic and Constantine defining their power dynamic. A second number in which Dominic dazzles the troupe with promises of fullfilling their desires has some good lines. The rest, though, just kind of lay there. Maybe for the next movie, the story should be focused on them doing song parodies on YouTube. Those seem to go well for them.
Muppets Most Wanted is not a big burn, it just feels like it is coasting along on familiarity rather than trying to actively engage the audience (which, now that I think about it, is kind of how they perform their show-within-a-movie). If you're forgiving and just want to see Muppets on a big screen then you'll likely quite enjoy it. If that nostalgia isn't enough on its own, then the 112 running time is going to feel pretty long.
Attached to Muppets Most Wanted is a Pixar short (question for the crowd: Is this the first time a Pixar short has been attached to a non-Pixar movie?) called Party Central. In it, Mike and Sully return to Monsters University during pledge week to bring the biggest party on campus to their frat house with the help of a couple scare doors.
The short (only 6 minutes) relies mostly on sight gags as they do a take on the Portal computer games using two doors to moves stuff around via the human world. Nothing earthshattering but some good chuckles.
- Muppets Most Wanted is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, March 21, 2014
- Directed by James Bobin
- Written by James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
- Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, and the voices of Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, and Matt Vogel.
- Running time: 112 minutes
- Rated PG for some mild action
- Alex's rating: 5 out of 10
[Note: When originally published this article misspelled the name of Steve Whitmire.]