Friday, April 11, 2014

'Muppets Most Wanted' REVIEW

In 2011, Jason Segel and company rebooted the Muppets with a great movie in which a new character named Walter (the world's biggest Muppets fan) reunited the Muppets for a telethon that would save the old Muppet theatre from the original TV show (never before referenced in a movie) from being bulldozed.  Some complained that the movie centered too much on Walter and not enough on the core group, but the movie was about how Walter became a Muppet and was therefore about "The Muppets", hence the clever title.  And we had a very dramatic reunion between Kermit and Miss Piggy, which led to one of the more emotional moments in the film's climax, where three plot threads were brought together during the singing of the Muppets iconic song "Rainbow Connection".  Oh, and that other song won an Oscar and had a Jim Parsons cameo and was also awesome.

Now, we have 'Muppets Most Wanted', advertised as being in the vein of 'The Great Muppet Caper' (the best Muppet movie ever).  Kermit is barely in it.  Yes, you read that right.  Kermit is barely in it.  They made him very unlikable by having him flip out and yell at Miss Piggy very early on in the film about wanting to get married.  You probably know from the previews that there is a frog named Constantine that looks exactly like Kermit except for a mole.  Well, this movie focuses on him, his criminal partner (played by Ricky Gervais) and Tina Fey's (surprisingly unfunny) character more than any single Muppet.  This movie commits the crime that a few of the post-Jim Henson's death Muppet films made (killing the franchise, necessitating Jason Segel's reboot), which is that the human characters overshadow the Muppets themselves in the same way that Shia LaBeouf was more important to the Transformers movies than the Transformers as characters.

Kermit doppleganger Constantine escapes from the Gulag in Siberia, Russia and hatches a plan with Dominic Badguy (pronounced "bad-gee"...get it?) to steal a bunch of things that will help him steal the crown jewels in London.  Dominic poses as a concert promoter, convinces the Muppets to go on a world tour, despite Kermit's reluctance and then replaces him with Constantine.  Kermit gets sent to the Gulag (where he is barely seen for the rest of the film) while the Muppets are fooled into believing that Kermit is talking differently because he has a cold.  Previously, Kermit has been a stabilizing influence on the group when they perform, but "new Kermit" Constantine tells them to do what they want in the show while he is busy plotting his heists.  They like the creative freedom at first, but later realize they took Kermit for granted.

Meanwhile, Kermit is recruited by Tina Fey's prison guard character to headline their prison's talent show.  We are "treated" to some very long scenes where tough Russian prison inmates are turned into Broadway singers, scenes that become unfunny very fast and...again...are focused on human characters and not on the Muppets.  Yes, the idea of the other Muppets not telling Kermit and Constantine apart is "Muppet humor" (Kermit and Fozzie played twins in 'The Great Muppet Caper'), but the Muppets were never this dumb when Jim Henson was alive.  Maybe because he focused on Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy and Gonzo, allowing him to develop their characters more instead of making them the butt of dumb jokes.

I did admire the way this movie touched on a subject that I have wondered about for years, what Kermit and Miss Piggy's kids would look like.  It's in a fantasy sequence.  Miss Piggy fantasizes about what her life with Kermit would be like, raising a green girl pig and a pink frog boy.  I always pictured their offspring as being more of a freak show hybrid, but I liked that they explored it.  None of the celebrity cameos are as inspired as "human Walter" from the last movie or any of the cameos in the old Muppet films (Steve Martin, John Cleese etc.).  My personal disdain for Celine Dion aside, the scene she was in was very focused on her, making you forget that the song is about Miss Piggy's sadness.  The plot is very rushed to cram in these lame jokes that do not flow organically from the characters the way they did in 'Caper'.  And, let's just say that none of these songs will be nominated for anything but a Razzie.  There is a lot of self-aware, "make fun of ourselves" humor that also falls flat.  The opening song is "We're Doing a Sequel", the lyrics of which admit that the sequels are never as good.  (Unless it's 'The Great Muppet Caper'!!!) and there is a cameo by Rizzo the rat and Kermit's nephew Robin where they crack a joke about beloved characters that were absent from the last film.  (cue rimshot)

I give 'Muppets Most Wanted' 1 rainbow connection out of 5.  Go rent/buy/stream 'The Great Muppet Caper' to see what this movie should have been.  It will be cheaper than theatre tickets and you will have money left over for snacks.

Or...go see 'Mr. Peabody'...which I DID like and I will tell you why with my next review.

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