Muppets Most Wanted

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Ricky Gervais
Directed by: James Bobin (“The Muppets”)
Written by: James Bobin (debut) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”)

After years of languishing in ho-hum theatrical features and increasingly boring TV movies, Disney finally put the full heft of their family-friendly marketing machine behind Kermit the Frog, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang with 2011’s “The Muppets,” a delightfully nostalgic yet wonderfully fresh take on the late Jim Henson’s greatest creation. Bolstered by the presence of avowed Muppet fan Jason Segal in front of the camera and behind the scenes (he co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller), “The Muppets” managed to win the hearts of jaded old Muppet fans burned by years of mediocre offerings like myself while also successfully introducing the characters to a new batch of young fans—not to mention bringing the market for Muppet merchandise back from the dead.

Because no hit movies in Hollywood are left without one, 2014 brings us a sequel: “Muppets Most Wanted.” Kicking off literally seconds after “The Muppets” wrapped up on Hollywood Boulevard (with stand-ins playing the backs of the sorely-missed Segal and Amy Adams), “Muppets Most Wanted” sends the Muppets packing on a European tour at the urging of shady tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais…and it’s pronounced “bad-jee”) that finds them playing some of the swankiest theaters on the continent. Meanwhile Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog—and dead ringer for Kermit, save the presence of a mole—has made a daring escape from a Russian gulag. If you haven’t guessed by now, Dominic and Constantine are working together, using the Muppets’ tour stops as decoys to break into vaults all across Europe. The duo quickly dispatch Kermit to the Russian gulag overseen by closet Kermit the Frog fan Nadya (Tina Fey) while Constantine poses poorly as Kermit, even though none of the other Muppets are any the wiser. With a bumbling INTERPOL agent (Ty Burrell) and a no-nonsense CIA agent (Sam the Eagle) on their trail, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal their biggest prize of all: the British Crown Jewels.

While the laughs are there and the songs, again by Oscar-winner Bret Mackenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame), are solid, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels much less satisfying than the last effort. The cast, though all seasoned comedy vets, feels more like the cast of a TV movie, as if the three human leads weren’t the first or even second choices for the roles. Again, Segal’s goofy man-child sincerity for the material is missed, leaving the movie with a going-through-the-motions feel which, to be fair, it half-heartedly acknowledges in the big wink of a song “We’re Doing A Sequel” that kicks the movie off. Throw in the fact that it looks like Disney cheaped out, with terrible special effects marring the climax and the final sequence of the film, and “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like an unfortunate letdown.

The Muppets

November 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
Directed by: James Bobin (TV’s “The Flight of the Conchords”)
Written by: Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshal”) and Nicholas Stoller (“Get Him to the Greek”)

If watching actor/writer Jason Segel reluctantly trying to impress Mila Kunis by performing a song from his Dracula puppet rock opera in the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” made you wish all love was as eternal as a vampire’s, then you must’ve also been as intrigued as I was when news that Segel and Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller would continue playing puppet show by penning the script for a reboot to the famed Muppet film franchise.

After 12 years without a theatrical release (their last was the second-rate, Gonzo-centric “Muppets from Space” in 1999), there would finally be what the studio was calling a fresh take on the beloved cast of characters who first appeared as a group on “The Muppet Show” in the mid ’70s. If by “fresh” they meant “The Muppets” would feel like it was plucked from the days when Bob Hope and Milton Berle would cameo, then, yes, a lifelong Muppets fan like Segel should be proud of sticking to tradition despite original muppeteers like Frank Oz opining about the script’s lack of respect for the characters.

For people like myself, however, who grew up watching reruns of “The Muppet Show” in syndicate and trusted Segel and Stoller wouldn’t harp on homage so much and be brave enough to take some creative license, “The Muppets” is in many ways both a charming return to form and a surprising letdown. Sure, Judd Apatow humor, while usually clever, might be considered much too mean-spirited for the wholesomeness of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. But the new version is so far from modern that even Statler and Waldorf would deem parts of it all dried up.

Still, playing the nostalgia card is welcomed. We get a glimpse of the Muppets’ past at the beginning of the movie when we’re introduced to Walter, the Muppets’ No. 1 fan (and a Muppet himself) who grew up collecting their memorabilia and watching the old TV show with his human brother Gary (Segel). When Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams in an equally chipper role as “Enchanted”) invite Walter to tag along on their anniversary trip toLos Angeles, he jumps at the chance to go so he can visit the famous Muppet Theater. Now abandoned, the theater has caught the attention of wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to buy the building and bulldoze it so he can drill for the sweet crude underneath. The only way to save the theater: raise $10 million in two days by reuniting the now estranged Muppets for one last extravaganza show and telethon.

It sounds easier said than done, which makes Segel and Stoller’s decision to give Kermit, Gary, Mary, and Walter only 48 hours to track down all the Muppets, rehearse, and find a celebrity to host the event and TV network to air it, all the more ridiculously impossible. To help with the time constraints, the writing duo incorporate a few meta techniques to cheat their way through the narrative such as admitting to the audience that a musical montage would be used to skim happily through the Muppet hunt (or making sure said audience remembers they’re watching a movie). None of it comes off as clever as it probably did on paper, but Segel and Stoller stick with it nevertheless. Even the save-the-theater storyline itself didn’t rely on much thought. Whether it’s saving an orphanage in “The Blues Brothers” or a community recreation center in “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” or — get this — the Muppet Theater in 2002’s “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie,” originality isn’t a key element in the screenplay. Segel and Stoller would’ve had better luck coming up with something imaginative by filling in the blanks of a Muppet MadLibs.

Instead, “The Muppets” goes for quick and easy jokes like outdated references to “Dirty Dancing,” “Scarface,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Even more contemporary gags like chickens clucking to Cee Lo Green’s always-edited single “F*ck You!” will be overshadowed by the disappointment lingering after you realize another 12 years from now, the biggest cameos in this newest version (Jim Parsons, really?) will be just as memorable as Rob Schneider and Andie MacDowell’s in the last.