Muppets Most Wanted (PG)
Running Time: 112 mins
Directed by: James Bobin
Starring: Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais & Ty Burrell
Life’s like a movie, Write your own ending, Keep believing, Keep pretending - The Muppet Movie 1979
Having been resurrected with the frankly brilliant 2011 Jason Segal starring movie with a brilliant mix of old and (Oscar winning) new songs, The Muppets was a return to form for a franchise that long seemed destined never to return to the big screen. With a surprise $165 million return at the box office, a sequel was inevitable. Picking up right after its predecessor’s closing number, our puppet protagonists ponder what to do next before deciding on a sequel. The gang then launch into the first, and perhaps best song of the movie, ‘We’re doing a sequel’ and the fun, madness and mayhem gets underway.
And for the first 20 minutes or so the film keeps the same high standard of its predecessor. There are few things better than watching The Muppets bouncing off each other with lightening fast one-liners and blink and you will miss it sight gags. The film then takes a sharp turn when Ricky Gervais is introduced as the gang’s new agent Dominic Badguy (it’s French), who proposes that they take off on a world tour to cash in on their resurgent popularity, against the wishes of their leader Kermit. Dominic, it turns out, is working for notorious criminal and Kermit lookalike, Constantine, who plans on using the Muppets’ tour as a cover to enable him to go on an international crime spree. Constantine then assumes Kermit’s identity, while our hero is mistaken for his sinister doppelganger and is dispatched to the GULAG under the watchful eye of Tina Fey.
It is as a result of this plot device that the film is derailed into a number of hit and miss sub plots. Modern Family’s Ty Burrell is introduced as Jean Pierre Napoleon, a French Interpol inspector who is unwillingly paired up with Sam the Eagle. Their first scene, when the unlikely duo compare badges, is hysterical. Burrell was made for The Muppet universe, his delivery and willingness to launch himself into the most ridiculous scenarios – not to mention tiny little cars – is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. I could happily watch a spin-off with these two taking on other cases, a True Detective cross over perhaps? Watching Sam the Eagle and Burrell trying to make sense of McConaughey’s depressing philosophy would be comedy gold. Less successful, is Gervais’ pairing with the nefarious Constantine. Gervais is undoubtedly a fine actor but here he seems ill at ease and uncomfortable with losing himself within the role and his scenes carry a sense of self awareness that feels out of place within the context of the film. During his song with his criminal partner, Gervais seems to finally loosen up and get into the spirit of things and it is his highpoint of the film. Gervais, who started off as a surprisingly good singer (Google Seona dancing – don’t worry, we did it for you HERE), is never less then game. However, it is his more cynical brand of humor that is in stark contrast to the more heartfelt humor that The Muppets tend to convey.
Kermit’s imprisonment under Tina Fey is never less then entertaining with some wonderful throw away lines (Goodnight Danny Trejo!) and the best use of the movie’s numerous cameos. The problem is the same one that befell the recent season of Arrested Development, in that the strength of the ensemble cast is their interactions with each other. When they are separated to their own individual storylines, you tend to lose the group dynamic that worked so well previously. With so many plates spinning at the same time there is limited screen time for old favorites like Rizzo (who himself points this out) and my personal favorite Pepe the king Prawn. Walter is a needless carry over from the first film and his sub plot is the weakest in the film.
I adored the previous Muppet movie and A Muppet Christmas Carol is in my all time top 10… top five… ok top three. Muppets Most Wanted is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination but it is lacking in what the best Muppet films had; heart. There is a warmth and genuine heartfelt tenderness that came across in the last movie that this film just doesn’t have. Jason Segal was clearly a fan and knew exactly what formula worked and what didn’t and his absence here is clearly felt. There is an unevenness to the film, with cameos ranging from the pointless (Lady Gaga) to the sublime (Waltzing With Christoph Waltz). There is a lot to like about the film, Ty Burrell is hilarious and the majority of the songs are toe tapping brilliance. Overall though, as the cast themselves comment during the opening number “ Everyone knows that the sequel is never quite as good”…