Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Muppets: Most Wanted" Review: Jason Segel's Touch Is Sorely Missed In This Serviceable But Uninspired Sequel


The 2011 franchise reboot The Muppets took Jason Segel and his fellow writers nearly 3 years of planning, begging and pleading to not only get a new Muppet movie made, but to also make one that just wasn't another Muppet movie and instead make the best Muppet movie ever made. It's arguable of whether or not Segel and company succeeded depending on who you talk to (It made my list for the top films of that year), but what wasn't up for debate was the fact that he and Disney breathed new life into a franchise that most had forgotten about and did it with style.

Upon that film's success however, in place of the 3 years it took for it to get made, it took Disney execs all but a few minutes to decide to make a follow up film almost immediately to capitalize on the now hot Muppet film property. Sadly, with less care and more pressure to get a sequel released in time, the newest Muppet film, Muppets Most Wanted, feels just about as rushed and smashed together as any other sequel that is likewise given very little love and attention that its predecessor received in spades. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC Orange 30
Time:9:05 pm, March 22, 2014       
Projector Type: Digital 2D         
Film Rating: PG            
Film Runtime: 1 hr 42 min    
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Biases:  
Loves: The Muppets, the 2011 film, Tina Fey
Likes: Evil Kermit
Neutral: Advertising your cameos
Hates: Cash-in sequels rushed to the market
Want more Muppet action?: Check out any of their other previous films of which there now 8 total!

The gang is going on a globe-trotting trip this time around.

Picking up only seconds after The Muppets final big music number just outside the Muppet theater on Hollywood Blvd, we find Kermit and the gang wondering what to do next now that they are relevant again. During a very self referential musical number, Kermit is approached by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who convinces him and the other Muppets to go on a world tour and promote their big return to fame. Little do the Muppets know that Dominic's last name isn't French for Good guy (a failed joke that signals the mediocrity to come), and that he actually plans on using their tour to help free the criminal mastermind, and Kermit doppelganger, Constantine from the Russian Gulag and then go on a crime spree as Kermit rots away in prison.

That synopsis hints at one of the more off-putting aspects of this new Muppets movie, which is its overall feel. The happy nature of that 2011 film that just filled audiences with glee has been replaced by this slightly darker and more sinister tone. It never really goes too far with this gloomier setting, but chances are you won't be smiling nearly as often as you would like. Does that make it bad though? No, it doesn't. This sequel does contain some entertainment value despite many of its missteps and follies, mostly in thanks to the Muppets themselves, a Russian Kermit the Frog and a very underutilized Tina Fey. But let's start out with a few of the things that really standout and make this such an inferior overall experience compared to the Muppets last outing.

Evil Kermit is up to no good.

First of all there is the story, which is split between this Pink Panther-esque crime caper flick that is frustratingly void of any sort of originality or fun and the more successful but no less uninspired prison section. Both are about as exciting to watch unfold as is watching your computer install a package of updates you don't care about. The crime caper plot involves stealing the Crown Jewels from London, but to make this seem like more "fun" we have to find pieces to a puzzle which include an ancient key and locket that somehow (despite being hundreds of years old) shuts down a top of the line security system when placed in the proper hole in the wall.

What makes this all the more mind-numbing is that instead of watching the Muppets do their show (or do anything for that matter), we are watching Ricky Gervais and the evil Kermit rob these supposedly highly guarded places by breaking through a wall and just walking in. Where's the fun in that? It is more than apparent that this Muppet sequel is more intended for a younger audience than the last film, which is fine, but the writers should at least give us adults something to chew our brain on while waiting for the slowly churning story to complete itself.

Fozzy has a rare epiphany.

The other big section of the film focuses on Kermit locked away in a Gulag which is run by Tina Fey giving the one and only inspired performance in the entire film, but sadly she doesn't show up until half way in and when she does she hardly gets any real screentime. This section of the film actually contains the most entertaining parts of the film, with a number of well known actors cast as the inmates such Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo, but even those additions wear out their welcome way too early from being overused to the point of inducing yawns.

One of crucial elements that helped the 2011 film and could have helped immensely here is the human element, but the human characters all fail to add anything to the already dry well of ideas and tired jokes. Say what you will about the love story between Jason Segel and Amy Adams in the last film, but it was sweet, honest and heartfelt which was masterfully tied directly into Walter's story and the return of the Muppets. In Most Wanted, Ricky Gervais is not only saddled with the poor character arc of playing second fiddle to Constantine, but Gervais himself just looks bored by it all, as if he himself knew how lame everything was.

Tina Fey tries her best to infuse the film with life.

Ty Burrell of Modern Family fame appears as the Inspector Clouseau of the film and is partnered with a Muppet that works for the CIA where the limits of their relationship and humor go no further than when they compare the size of their badges, which isn't nearly as funny as it might sound. The only other human character in the film is Tina Fey, who isn't given much beyond this silly, and underdeveloped, notion that she has a crush on Kermit. But Fey seems like she is in a different movie than her costars as she is a constant glowing presence in a film that needed much more of that glow and life.

The last element Most Wanted falls short on is in the music department. You won't find anything here nearly as catchy and memorable as "Me Party" or "Life's A Happy Song", nor nothing as moving as "Pictures In My Head" or the Oscar winning "Man or Muppet". Instead we get an opening number that seems more like a cop out for making a subpar sequel and a series of songs that will have you wishing they had just recycled the older songs and put them in this. This is probably the biggest hit this film takes though, as the songs are so often full of melancholy and sadness that it brings the entire film down whenever they pop up (which felt like every ten minutes of so).

These guys could have been cut out all together, seriously.

The few and far between bright spots do help make the film more tolerable than it probably should have been. The aforementioned Tina Fey of course, but the Muppets once again prove to be an unstoppable force when it comes to bringing joy even when surrounded by a constant air of despair. Even though we somehow see even less of them this time around, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Scooter, Fozzy, Animal and even Walter help imbue positivity into what could have been a very depressing experience.

Probably the most original part of the film has to be the evil Kermit we get introduced to, who is a great addition to this otherwise by-the-numbers affair.  Kermit has always been a favorite, but when you have a Russian speaking Kermit who tries as hard as he can to be evil but somehow just ends up being adorably sweet, well...it's just sort of charming in a way that the filmmakers likely never even intentioned. He isn't three dimensional enough of a character to ever be part of the Muppet gang, but he at least made for an interesting foil for the Muppets to square off against (and was worlds more entertaining than Gervais).

Kermit is late for a very important date.

Even the hallmark of the Muppets experience, the cameo appearances, are half-baked this time around (it's never a good sign when cameos are advertised in the trailer). A number of actors are thrown in so haphazardly that unless you are on the lookout for them, they will likely pass you by and even when you do notice them, you will respond with nothing more than a shoulder shrug. The cameos aren't even all that clever and like everything else in the film, just feel uninspired. You won't find anything coming even close to the brilliance of Jack Black's appearance in the last film.

So, the music isn't quite as catchy, the cameos aren't quite as clever, the jokes aren't quite as witty, the story isn't quite as nostalgic or original and the endeavor as a whole just isn't quite as good as the Jason Segel helmed 2011 film. Whether any of that matters to you is a whole other matter, as this is still a brand new Muppets film which is to be celebrated just by the fact that it exists in a post-Pixar world. If only this sequel could have at the very least just come close to the greatness of the last film, then it would have garnered all sorts of acclaim. As it stands, this is a subpar sequel that feels more like a rush to cash in than a project fueled by the same enthusiasm and imagination that brought it back from oblivion.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

As far as family entertainment goes, Muppets Most Wanted is a perfectly suitable film that will remind kids why the Muppets are still around and making us laugh. But as for entertainment for grown ups, this sequel is far from the engaging, witty and clever previous film that reminded us adults why we love them so much. If you don't have kids, just wait for it to hit the home market and get your Muppets fix at a much cheaper price and with less kids crying in the theater.

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