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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.14%
Worth A Look: 7.14%
Just Average42.86%
Pretty Crappy42.86%
Sucks: 0%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Muppets Most Wanted
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Not-So-Great Muppet Caper"
2 stars

"Muppets Most Wanted," the eighth big-screen outing for the beloved creations of the late Jim Henson, is a film that opens with our felt-based heroes singing a song about how they are going to be making a sequel to their 2011 comeback despite not having any ideas of what to do and ends with the gang singing and dancing from within the confines of a gulag in Siberia. Frankly, those two scenes pretty much sum up my disappointment with this fitfully inspired and sporadically engaging work that squanders most of the goodwill that they banked after their previous film. I don't hate it--it would be impossible for even the most heartless of ogres to flat-out hate a Muppet movie--but I was disappointed by it and in a weird way, that almost feels worse.

Picking up literally where the last film left off (complete with seen-from-behind stand-ins for the otherwise MIA Jason Segel and Amy Adams), "Muppets Most Wanted" starts with the gang trying to figure out what they are going to do next and after tossing around a number of silly ideas, the eternally wise Kermit suggests that they hunker down and get to work on putting together new material instead of rushing into things and running the risk of blowing their chance at a true comeback. Though Kermit has never steered them wrong before, the other Muppets disagree and when fast-talking promoter Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) comes to them with the idea of immediately launching a stage tour of Europe, they are all for it. Kermit is a bit wary of Badguy (whose name, he insists, is pronounced "Bad-Gee") but in deference to his friends, he agrees and they are off to Berlin to kick off the tour.

Amazingly, Badguy turns out to be a no-good type whose partner, Constantine, has just broken out of a Siberian gulag and is, save for a single mole, a spitting image of Kermit. The two have concocted a plot in which Constantine will switch places with Kermit, who will be mistaken for the bad frog and thrown back in prison, and while the gang is on stage performing their poorly rehearsed and overlong show, the two will be robbing museums next door to the concert halls of artifacts that will help them make off with the biggest prize of them all, the crown jewels of England. Even the youngest observers might point out that there are a few flaws with this plan, beginning with the fact that Constantine speaks in a pronounced Russian accents and acts in a manner a million times removed from the gentle Kermit. The joke, however, is that except for Animal, none of the other Muppets actually notices the switch and while they are plodding through the continent, their friend is stuck in jail trying to organize a prison talent show (where the inmates include Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta) under the stern-but-loving gaze of the warden (Tina Fey in full Natasha Fatale form.)

At this point, some Muppet fans of a certain age may be experiencing more than a bit of deja vu. Back in the day, 35 years ago to be exact, the notion of a full-length Muppet movie was a big question mark for people--sure, the characters were beloved throughout the world thanks to their incredibly successful TV series, but did they have what it took to make the transition to the big screen? As "The Muppet Movie" proved, they most certainly did and they did so in a way as unique as they were--they appeared in a movie that recognized them as distinct characters and gave them a story that played off of their personalities instead of jamming them in the kind of formulaic plot that could have been done by anyone. Alas, when it came time to make a follow-up, the Muppet gang decided to ignore their best instincts and made "The Great Muppet Caper," which stuck them in a by-the-numbers caper comedy in which one of them was framed for a series of elaborate burglaries while in Europe. The resulting film was the kind of largely charmless bummer that many feared "The Muppet Movie" was going to be.

Now, having managed to make lightning strike twice by reviving the Muppet film franchise with a work that once again played off of their personalities in ways that were both hilarious and occasionally touching, the producers have once again made the inexplicable decision to follow it up with an anonymous caper comedy in which one of the characters is framed for a series of elaborate burglaries while in Europe. In fact, this one is actually worse than "The Great Muppet Caper" because whatever sins that film might have perpetrated, it still had a few moments of charm that recognized the individual personalities of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the others and some flashes of genuine wit here and there (with the cameo by John Cleese serving as the arguable high point of the proceedings. With "Muppets Most Wanted," the storyline conceived by James Bobin (who also directed) and Nicholas Stoller is so devoid of the distinctive Muppet flavor that with only a couple of very minor adjustments, it could have easily served as the basis for a fourth "Alvin & the Chipmunks" movie.

Not only does "Muppets Most Wanted" not feel like a true-blue Muppet movie per se, the Muppets themselves don't feel much like the characters we have come to know and love over the years. Over the years, we have gotten to know them as a group of lovable oddballs who would nevertheless always be there for one another when push came to shove--in many cases, their stories hinged more on what they felt for each other than on the crude machinations of the plot--and in many ways, they often felt more human than most flesh-and-blood screen personalities of late. This time around, however, not only are they often unpleasant in letting their new-found fame inspire bouts of egotism and self-indulgence not seen since the 1974 CSN&Y world tour, the fact that none of them, other than Animal, even slightly recognizes that their beloved Kermit is not acting like himself at all is really off-putting. Again, if this were a Chipmunk movie, no big deal but to see the Muppets acting this way is not just unfunny but kind of depressing to boot. Even the film seems to realize that it has gone a little too far and tries to pass off their inability to recognize the real Kermit as some kind of absurdist joke but by then, it is way too little and way too late. Then again, it seems that these are no longer the Muppets that we have known and loved for so long--as the end credits assure us, they are "Disney's Muppet Properties" now.

Like all the previous Muppet films, "Muppets Most Wanted" is studded with familiar faces in cameo roles ranging from the expected (considering that she is practically a live-action Muppet herself, the appearance by Lady Gaga is practically a given) to the inexplicable (such as the blink-and-you-miss-them bits from Chloe Grace Moretz and Saoirse Ronan, the latter not even getting a single line of dialogue). With one or two exceptions, however, they don't really work because they haven't been given anything funny to do and wind up just looking lost. For example, when the tour hits Spain, Salma Hayek turns up as their local guest star despite the fact that she is, of course, of Mexican descent. This sounds like the set-up for a decent joke--something about the Muppets being so lazy at this point that they can't bother to tell the difference between Spain and Mexico or Hayek suspecting that they really meant to bring in Penelope Cruz--but nothing at all develops along these lines. In the larger human roles, Ty Burrell, as a goofy Interpol agents, does for this film what he did for "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"--nil--and while Gervais and Fey (especially the latter) are sort of fun to watch, it just feels like a waste of their talents and makes you wonder what might have occurred if one of them had been hired to pen the screenplay.

As I said earlier, it is impossible to actually hate anything Muppet-related and "Muppets Most Wanted" has its good points--there are a funny moments here and there and as Muppet movies go, it is certainly better than series low point "Muppets From Space" (which, now that I think of it, also featured an appearance by Ray "The Felt Jinx" Liotta). However, considering that we are still basking in the glow of a film that unexpectedly found humor and emotion in small plastic bricks, the inability of a Muppet movie to do the same despite it being one of their strengths cannot be seen as anything other than a comedown. "Muppets Most Wanted" may not be a complete disaster--it provides more entertainment than that hideous "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" does--but for the first time in a long time in regards to the Muppets, I came away from the film thinking that Statler & Waldorf might have a point after all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25833&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/23/14 14:58:27
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User Comments

7/15/14 SunsetShimmerChan A lovely musical adventure about The Muppets traveling around the world. 5 stars
3/24/14 KingNeutron Burrell might make a good Clouseau. Fey gorgeous as always; I laughed a lot. 4 stars
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  21-Mar-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 12-Aug-2014


  DVD: 12-Aug-2014

Directed by
  James Bobin

Written by
  James Bobin
  Nicholas Stoller

  Ricky Gervais
  Tom Hiddleston
  Salma Hayek
  Christoph Waltz
  Tina Fey
  Ty Burrell

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