Muppets Most Wanted (2014) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG for some mild action
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo
Voices: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobsen, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz
Cameo: Celine Dion, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Mackenzie Crook, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz
Director: James Bobin
Screenplay: James Bobin, Nichollas Stoller

Review published March 21, 2014

We're Doing a Sequel
That's what we do in Hollywood
and everybody knows
the sequel's never quite as good

So go the lyrics to the number that starts Muppets Most Wanted, and it astutely sums up its own product. This direct sequel, which starts right after the very end of 2011's The Muppets, is a step down from the loose-hanging delights of its predecessor, but delivers enough entertainment for the fans to justify a return engagement at the movie theater.  Unfortunately, it's not likely to gain any new fans, and some longtime fans may gripe that it regurgitates an already used heist plot similar to their own The Great Muppet Caper from 1981.

The plot involves the Muppets crew becoming part of a grand scheme perpetrated by the 'world's most dangerous frog', a Russian-accented amphibian named Constantine, whose facial mole is the only differentiating trait (other than his voice) from Kermit the Frog.  His 'number two' guy, the auspiciously named Dominic Badguy (Gervais, The Invention of Lying), gets in the Muppets' good graces as their new manager for his suggestion of an upcoming European tour, then identities (and moles) are swapped, such that Kermit is sent to a Siberian gulag while Constantine now runs the Muppet Show.  Constantine's plan: to use the roving show to go on a world tour in which robberies are committed, culminating in the grand finale involving the illegal acquisition of priceless artwork and crown jewels housed in the Tower of London.

Unlike its predecessor, or 1979's The Muppet Movie, Muppets Most Wanted is a step down primarily because it lacks the more heartfelt elements that make a Muppet movie so thoroughly enjoyable underneath the sporadic gags.  Directed and co-written by The Muppets' James Bobin, the emphasis here is more toward trying to amuse, which it does in a hit-and-miss fashion, as well as try to shoehorn in as many celebrity cameos as it can, which has become a Muppet movie staple since its inception.

The makers of this film know that these films have a bit of a box office ceiling, in that the Muppets, while popular in the United States, don't fare quite as well at the worldwide box office.  The entire Europe-hopping plot seems to be contrived in order to have little moments to help sell the film to European markets like England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, and France.  The international cast also follows suit with the locales in order to reach beyond normal markets and hope attention gets paid from corners of the world unfamiliar (or uninterested) in Jim Henson's most popular creations.

Of the human actors, Gervais and Fey (Baby Mama), who plays the warden of the gulag Kermit is holed up in, get the most screen time, and they do a decent enough job in their cartoonish (but fun) roles to elevate the material, though being a Muppet film, they're usually (and appropriately) upstaged by the real stars of the show.

The funniest of the material comes through the musical numbers by the returning Bret McKenzie, and while none suggest a repeat at the Oscars for Best Song like The Muppets' "Man or Muppet", most of the ditties here kick up the momentum whenever the rudimentary plot threatens to drag the tone down to tedium. Following the aforementioned, "We're Doing a Sequel", there is a hilarious ditty entitle "I'm Number One", about how much better it is to be the man in charge and not the 'number two' henchman.

While 2011's The Muppets shared an equally tired plot ("Let's get the band back together"), it benefited from being able to put on "The Muppet Show" for its big finale once all of the pieces were put into place.  Muppets Most Wanted's overused plot is the typical heist film, which is too familiar to be thrilled by, and worse, it means the final half hour is going to deal with whether or not Constantine is able to pull of his scheme.  There's no one who will come away from this film thinking the best parts stem from its story, and no one will be sitting on the edge of their seat because of the plot, so why not try a fresh approach? 

Muppets Most Wanted delivers enough right notes at the right times in order to justify time spent for fans of these characters, but it does sputter and drag more than it really should, and if it manages to get to the finish line with everyone still on board, it's only because our beloved characters have to push the vehicle several times with a musical number.  Hopefully for their encore, the creators will figure out a better way to give is all of the snark, zaniness, and tongue-in-cheek references we want, without having to shoehorn several dozen characters into yet another formula plot barely worth following.  More Muppets Wanted.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo