Monday, September 8, 2014

Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by: James Bobin.
Written by: James Bobin & Nicholas Stoller based on the characters created by Jim Henson.
Starring: Ricky Gervais (Dominic Badguy), Ty Burrell (Jean Pierre Napoleon), Tina Fey (Nadya), Steve Whitmire (Kermit the Frog / Foo Foo / Statler / Beaker / Lips / Rizzo the Rat / Link Hogthrob / The Newsman), Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy / Fozzie Bear / Sam Eagle / Animal), Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo / Dr. Bunsen Honeydew / Zoot / Beauregard / Waldorf), Bill Barretta (Pepe the King Prawn / Rowlf the Dog / Dr. Teeth / The Swedish Chef / Bobo the Bear / Big Mean Carl / Baby Boss / Carlo Flamingo / Leprechaun Security Guard), David Rudman (Scooter / Janice / Miss Poogy / Bobby Benson / Wayne), Matt Vogel (Constantine / Floyd Pepper / Sweetums / Pops / Robin / Lew Zealand / Crazy Harry / 80's Robot / Camilla / Uncle Deadly), Peter Linz (Walter / Manolo Flamingo).

If Jason Segel is to be believed, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t be, it was his idea, and not Disney’s to reboot The Muppets three years ago. I have a feeling that because it was his idea, that he had a little bit more leeway in making the movie – and that showed in the end result, which was irreverent and funny, and was a classic Muppet story with a modern twist. It used celebrity cameos smartly (like when Selena Gomez showed up as herself near the end of the movie, and didn’t really know who the Muppets were). By contrast, Muppets Most Wanted feels like an old, discarded Muppets script that the studio simply dusted off and rushed into production when the first one made more money than they thought it would. After an inspired opening – literally picking up right where the last film left off – the Muppets launch into a song about how they’re doing a sequel, and they start brainstorming ideas on what to do in it (By the way, I would love to see The Swedish Chefs idea as a feature film with Muppets – just saying), before Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) shows up and suggests the Muppets go on a World Tour – and hire him to be their tour manager. So that’s what they do. But of course, since his last name is literally Badguy – he has ulterior motives that involve his boss Constantine – a frog who looks exactly like Kermit, except for a mole. Their plan is to break Constantine out, put Kermit in his place, and then steal the crown jewels. They are successful at first – and no one seems to realize that this isn’t the real Kermit – who is now stuck in a Siberian gulag with Tina Fey has his jailer.

Muppets Most Wanted feels like a throwback to the Muppets earlier big screen adventures – the time before they started doing stuff like A Christmas Carol or Treasure Island or going off into space. The plot is intentionally silly – and is really just an excuse to string together gags and countless celebrity cameos. And it should be said that some of the jokes are quite funny, and most of the movie is at least enjoyable in a low-key way. But the film never achieves the same level that the previous film did – and because it feels like a rehash of their older movies, doesn’t really live up to those ones either. The film runs almost two hours long – and my three year got bored both times I tried to show her the film (once in the theater – where she has never had a problem before or since – and once on DVD, where normally she sits in rapt attention). For slightly older kids, I’m sure the film will work as a time killer – and it won’t be too painful a sit for parents the first time through. But given how much fun the last film was, you cannot help but be disappointed.

There are numerous ways this films doesn’t quite live up the last one. One is the celebrity cameos – which were mainly done well in the last film, but here it just seems excessive. Practically everyone you see onscreen in any small, speaking role is a celebrity. It’s more fun to play spot the celebrity than it is to actually watch the movie. Look, there’s James McAvoy as a UPS Delivery Man! Chloe Grace Mortez selling newspapers! Stanley Tucci as a gulag guard! There thrown in for no rhyme or reason, and while it can be amusing, it also grows tiresome.

The same can be said of the movie itself – and strangely my daughter picked just about the time when the movie wore out its welcome, and then simply coasts the rest of the way – right around the hour mark. That’s when she stopped watching both times – and although the second time I finished, I have to admit that she left right when the film stopped being that much fun.

Muppets Most Wanted is not a bad movie – not really. It’s better than most of the crap aimed at children – and tries to be smart and witty and funny, but never quite pulls it off. It’s not a painful way to spend a couple of hours – but unlike the last film, which I would recommend to anyone whether they have kids or not, I cannot say the same thing about this one.

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