From the first musical number, The Muppets: Most Wanted admits what it’s up to. “We’re doing a sequel,” the beloved Jim Henson puppets croak and caw, “that’s what we do in Hollywood. Though everyone knows that a sequel’s never quite as good.” And even though Kermit might be spot on with his sentiment, starting things off with this kind of disclaimer doesn’t offer a ton of hope to an expecting audience. Following that mantra of mediocrity, director and writer James Bobin offers up a Muppets that’s fully tolerable but never exceptional.Three years ago, the return of The Muppets was met with near universal praise. Its release marked a childhood mainstay returning to the spotlight. Co-written by and starring Jason Segel, The Muppets used his signature blend of awkward comedy and surprising heart to harness a comeback for the cherished characters born of the 70s. Its ‘getting the band back together’ framework excited nostalgia for older audiences while ushering in a new generation of Muppet fans, reminding us why we fell in love with the Muppets in the first place. All Most Wanted does is remind us that not every Muppet outing was gold, nor really worth getting excited for.
After the events of the first film, the finally banded together again Muppets see that the wave of success they might have expected is not in order after all. The general response they’re met with is more a brand of 21st century apathy. So when Dominic Badguy (the obvious red herring is supposed to be funny but I think you can make that judgement for yourself) offers to launch the Muppets on a world tour, the group of fuzzy dolls are ecstatic. All but Kermit that is. As the levelheaded leader of the gang, Kermit sees shortcuts for what they are and urges the group that they need to rehearse and improve their act before unleashing on an unprecedented world tour.
Meanwhile, Kermit lookalike and criminal master-frog, Constantine, breaks free from the inhospitable Siberian Gulag (you know, those forced labor camps that were so popular in Stalin’s USSR) and makes his way across Europe to the touring Muppets. Set up by Badguy, Kermit is tricked into an back alley (populated by dirty bath water and the babucha-clad impoverished that feels straight from a Vittorio De Sica film) where Constantine pulls a devilish switch-a-roo. By gluing a Monroe-like mole onto Kermit’s amphibian cheek and covering his own with green makeup, Constantine assumes Kermit’s identity and leads everyone to believe that Kermit is in fact the famed outlaw. What follows is a trail of bad accents, calamitous Muppet acts and a string of increasingly news-worthy heists.
As Badguy (pronounced Bad-gee), Ricky Gervais is on par with his resume of safe comedies, offering a few chuckles but nothing that originates from the depths of the belly. Ty Burrell, continuing a streak of big screen appearances, gets to try on his best Pink Panther impression as the pretentious, mustache-twirling French detective Jean Pierre Napoleon. He’s at the mercy of the writers but at least with their mockery of French culture, they’ve honed their satire, even if it feels a bit too much like personal jabs.
Locked up in the Gulag with Kermit, Tina Fey sports a hammy Russian accent to not so great effect. Like the onslaught of celebrity cameos around her (from Lady Gaga to Danny Trejo), Fey is fine but nothing to write home about. With every human character relegated to a riff on some European populace or other, and when the caricatures feel this mocking, Most Wanted feels like it’s flirting a dangerous line of xenophobic. But then again, we are dealing with puppets so I expect international audiences may be more forgiving.
Most Wanted is ostensibly ironic but feels the pressure of a hurried studio’s pace, particularly in the story department. Its international heist plot is exhaustingly familiar fare and Bobbitts offers little in terms of breaking free of genre constraints. Instead, it’s all very procedural, very much what you would expect. Nevertheless, Kermit remains one of America’s greatest and most timeless creations; a beacon of reason, an icon of good. A little green Gandhi that the world could always use more of. Too bad then that we spend so much time with the imposter frog, Constantine, a character who ironically seems to sum up the pursuit of the film at large – a knock-off ringleader leading a shortcut effort to make off with a satchel of money.
Its predecessor had the savory flavors of a labor of love, this the stink of a cash grab. Like salt water, you can taste the thirst for profits in the air. Nothing sums it up better than Miss Piggy’s verse in that first tune, “The studio considers us a buyable franchise.” It’s just a shame that that’s all they saw in this.
Matt Oakes saw over 150 movies in theaters and probably drank more than his weight in beer last year. Check out more reviews at his website www.silverscreenriot.com and follow Matt on Facebook and on Twitter.