Movie review: 'Muppets Most Wanted' is disappointing

For the News-DemocratMarch 20, 2014 

What It's About

Not sure what the creatives behind "The Muppets Most Wanted" had in mind, but it is neither as kid-friendly as you would expect nor as witty for the adults as you'd hope for. It's a flat, uneven, disappointing sequel to the enchanting 2011 film that resurrected one of our most beloved franchises.

It turns out the opening number "We're Doing a Sequel" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Everybody knows that the sequel's never quite as good," the Muppets sing.

This time, Kermit and company embark on a World Tour, with a slimy manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) calling the shots. He's in cahoots with a Russian baddie Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog, who just happens to resemble lovable Kermit. They plan robberies in the vicinity of where the Muppets are performing.

Evil Constantine escapes from a Russian gulag and takes Kermit's place in The Muppets, fooling Kermit's pals despite the thick accent. Consequently, the real Kermit is captured and sent to prison as Constantine.

The high jinks are slick, and there is a parade of interesting cameos in this star-studded affair but also some odd choices -- Stanley Tucci, Ray Liotta and Christoph Waltz in a Disney movie? Say what? And if you blink, you'll miss critically acclaimed actors James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston, Saoirse Ronan and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Performances

In their own projects, Ricky Gervais (BBC's "The Office"), Ty Burrell (Emmy winner for "Modern Family") and Tina Fey ("Saturday Night Live," SNL, "30 Rock") are usually at the top of their game, finessing the comic timing and goofy personas they've developed. As always, they perform with skill -- Burrell has good moments as a Clouseau-like detective and Fey is over-the-top as a tough Russian prison guard.

But something is amiss -- it seems strained, just doesn't feel like a good fit for the catch-all family entertainment Disney is aiming.

The gaping hole is the loss of Jason Segel, who was the heart and soul of the first film. It's obvious that he tied together all the elements that made "The Muppets" such an uplifting, fun experience because he had nothing to do with this one, which is still directed and written by the guys from the first.

What Works

Lovable Walter returns -- he was introduced in "The Muppets" three years ago. The delights of our felt friends are many, and Kermit, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Fozzy, Animal and pals fill the screen with joy. The songs are mostly tuneful, if not as catchy as the first score.

What Doesn't Work

The whole plotline in Russia is a mistake. Do little kids know anything about the old Cold War or what's happening now? And the musical theater parody is pure silliness. I'm not sure how it grabs the little ones.

This mediocre endeavor is haphazard, even dull, inserted with a plethora of pop culture references ("The Silence of the Lambs"!) to give it some cool cred, but the sheer weight of expectations sinks it.

The first one was inspired, this one never takes off.

2 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: James Bobin

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey

Length: 1:52

Rated: PG

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