Friday, March 28, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

Directed by James Bobin
Written by James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller
Based on characters created by Jim Henson

            2011’s The Muppets was the perfect return to form for the Muppets.  It was funny, it was smart, and it was clearly made with a lot of love.  With the loss of Jason Segel and the downright-awful Lady Gaga special, I was rather wary about Most Wanted.  But the second the opening song, “We’re Doing a Sequel” starts, I knew that everything I love about the Muppets is here.
            With the gang back together and the studio looking for a sequel, Kermit (Steve Whitmire) just has to figure out what the plot is.  When Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) suggests a world tour, it’s the perfect venue for the Muppets—but it’s really just a plot to replace Kermit with the world’s #1 criminal, Constantine (Matt Vogel), in a plot for him and Dominic to steal London’s crown jewels.
            So yes, things are definitely more towards the older Muppet movies than the “Let’s put on a show” plot of The Muppets.  Fortunately, it doesn’t veer off too far.  The Muppets are still a travelling troupe, they’re still putting on shows, and, most importantly, they’re still the focus.  Arguably, the biggest problems with the 2011 movie were the unnecessary focus on the human romance and Walter’s almost star-stealing role in the plot.  Here, the humans are rightfully relegated to secondary characters, and Walter…still feels a bit like a star-stealing character.  He’s a nice enough character, but when the plot hinges on him in a spot where it seems a more notable Muppet like Gonzo could’ve had a great role, there’s a problem.
           Fortunately, the movie also has one of the other important parts of any Muppet movie: a great sense of humor.  From self-referential winking to the rapid-fire silliness, Muppets’ sense of humor is well and truly in the right place.  Constantine’s hilarious attempt at impersonating Kermit, which nobody figures out, is perfect.  Sam the Eagle, working for the CIA, clashing with the Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell) is perfect satire of American perception of Europeans, with Jean constantly taking 6 hour lunch breaks and ending his work day at 2.  And the songs are rather rightfully hilarious, though sadly, not as catchy as the previous movie.  There’s no Life’s a Happy Song here.  The musical highlight is definitely I Hope I Get It from A Chorus Line being performed by a group of tough criminals (including Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta) in a gulag.  It’s the kind of cover you’d expect to have seen on the show.

            That previously mentioned opening number knowingly contains the line “The sequel’s never quite as good”.  And yes, it doesn’t quite match the pure love of the franchise put into the previous one.  But it more than makes up for that by being constantly hilarious and well-focused.  The Muppets revival continues on the right track.

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