My wife and I took the kids to see “Muppets Most Wanted” this weekend. As a matter of full disclosure, I should state up front that I didn’t really want to see it in the first place. From all the commercials and trailers, it didn’t look like it was up to the caliber of the last movie, “The Muppets”. In the context of my disinterest, I was not disappointed. It was as poor an outing as I expected.
I won’t try to give away too much of the movie, though it’s not so full of plot twists or turns that you don’t see any of them coming. This is a movie geared to children after all, and you don’t want to lose your core audience. As the movie opens, we find ourselves right where we left off with the previous movie. Literally. The streets are thronged with fans and supporters all cheering on the Muppets. Then the “cameras” stop rolling and the crowd disperses, with the Muppets learning that the crowd were mostly extras and a few paid performers. But just as quickly they learn that there is at least one camera still rolling, still framing them. With a sudden realization they deduce that the studio must have greenlit a sequel. At which point we get the Exposition Song, which cleverly states that everyone knows the sequel isn’t quite as good. This might be the highlight of the movie. It is certainly the most clever part.
As plot goes, it’s not much more than an update on The Great Muppet Caper. A con man, played with a fair amount of sleaze and slime by Ricky Gervais, tricks the Muppets into riding their newly rediscovered fandom to a world tour. Little do they realize that the world tour is a simply a way of taking advantage of particular settings, venues that are all situated next to a museum of some sort. Each museum holds a key to the ultimate heist, which concludes in London. But while Gervais gives a nice turn as Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced ‘Bah-jee’. It’s French.”), the mastermind behind this dastardly heist plot is the nefarious Constantine. He is billed as “the world’s most dangerous frog”, and the fact that he bears a striking resemblance to one Kermit the Frog is, shall we say, convenient.
After escaping from the Siberian gulag where he was imprisoned for an undetermined length of time, he manages to switch places Kermit, taking on the role of Muppet emcee, while at the same time serving as the brains behind the upcoming heist. Kermit meanwhile ends up trapped in a Siberian gulag and, despite the fact that it’s immediately evident he is not Constantine, he is held captive nonetheless by a moon-eyed gulag warden played by Tina Fey. Yet even while imprisoned, Kermit cannot escape the call of the stage, directing the gulag prisoners in a ridiculous the music and dance review.
There’s plenty more, with all manner of gags and jokes, riffs on the past, and characters given some time to shine that were not seen in the last outing. Some of it’s funny, but not enough of it. Some of it could have been brilliant had it been given more chance to shine. Ty Burrell turns in a hilarious performance as the French interpol investigator, teamed to discover the root of the heist with Sam the American Eagle. Together they steal the screen, with Burrell turning in the best Non-Frenchman-As-Frenchman performance since Peter Sellers. It’s too bad we didn’t see more of him.
What really struck me, and why I came away from the theater with an underwhelmed feeling, is that this movie, unlike the last one, felt just like what it is: an attempt to capitalize on a franchise line that was reinvigorated by a previous outing. I felt a similar way toward “Star Trek Into Darkness”, which tried too hard to please the fanboys, but still didn’t leave me as wanting as this one. I found “Muppets Most Wanted” largely without heart and without comedy, a kiss of death for a movie like this. Contrast it with the previous movie, which was the most touching love-letter to a lost franchise that I think I’ve seen in years. “The Muppets” was lovingly crafted first and foremost by Jason Segel, a self-proclaimed number-one-fan of the Muppets, and it showed. “Muppets Most Wanted” felt crafted by Disney accounts trying to pad the bottom line.