Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Muppets Most Wanted" Plays to Brand's Strengths

The Muppets agree to make a world tour their next adventure.
Early on in Muppets Most Wanted, Kermit encourages Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of his pals to play it safe and stick to their strengths. He argues that even though they are relevant again due to the success of the Jason Segal-led The Muppets (a fact that is emphasized by the opening number “We’re Doing a Sequel”), they are still in a perilous spot popularity-wise, so they shouldn't do much to shake up a formula that works.

He’s talking about the on-stage acts they’ll be delivering during their world tour, but it’s also a meta moment that aptly describes Muppets Most Wanted, a film that doesn't do anything innovative but coasts along amiably on the strength of some giddy puns, a zany energy, a slew of celebrity cameos, and (most importantly) a helping of charming original tunes.

The film focuses on the evil plot of Constantine the frog, a master criminal who looks like Kermit with a mole on his cheek. With the assistance of his number two (Ricky Gervais), Constantine escapes jail and then kidnaps and replaces Kermit, all the while using the cover of a Muppets World Tour to pull off a number of heists culminating in the theft of England’s Crown Jewels. Constantine makes for a poor Kermit, but none of his pals notice (except Animal) because the less structured impostor allows them to do whatever they want with the show.

Meanwhile, Kermit is trapped in a Siberian gulag, helping prisoners like Big Papa (Ray Liotta), Prison King (Jermaine Clement) and Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo) put on a revue at the behest of the warden (Tina Fey). And CIA agent Sam Eagle is working with a Clouseau-like Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) to track down the thieves behind the growing number of heists.

This gag single-handedly justifies this whole movie. 
The narrative is predictably disposable, but the film shines in similar ways to its predecessor. Director/writer James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller once again deliver fun that's amusingly meta, sneaking in some pretty big laughs  (the appearance of Rizzo and Robin and the sight gag of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s future kids) amidst the mostly knowing chuckles.

Although there’s nothing here that approaches his Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet” or even “Life’s a Happy Song,” Bret McKenzie has littered the soundtrack with some really clever and fun songs, especially “I’ll Get You What You Want” and “Interrogation Song.”  Likewise, while none of the celebrity cameos work as well as the Jim Parsons scene in The Muppets, three or four of the 20 or so included here come close.

As I said, the movie plays to the strengths of the Muppets. Nothing overly special to see here, but a comforting adventure with some old friends – the type of family film that doesn't hit the heights of something like The Lego Movie, but that will play well on repeat viewings with the kids. B-