June 8, 2016

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
Grade: 53/100

Director: James Bobin
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell

What it's about. This eighth Muppets feature film provides the anticipated level of silliness and nonsense, but nothing more. It turns out that Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) has an evil twin: Russian arch-criminal Constantine (Matt Vogel). Constantine conspires with another criminal, Ricky Gervais against our hapless Muppet heroes.

Gervais becomes the manager of the Muppets and sends them on a world tour. Constantine switches places with Kermit, who is arrested and sent to a frigid Siberian gulag run by Tina Fey. Fey forces Kermit to become the stage director for a musical featuring the gulag prisoners.

Meanwhile, Constantine and Gervais loot and burglarize various museums, and attempt to pin the crimes on the Muppets. Their ultimate goal is to steal the Crown Jewels of England. In an attempt to placate the increasingly restless and infrequently suspicious Muppets, Constantine as Kermit lets them do what they please on stage. He also becomes engaged to Miss Piggy. Can the real Kermit escape from prison in time to stop the wedding?

As is the rule for Muppet films, we have a plethora of celebrity cameos, including Usher as an usher and (gasp) the real Céline Dion. Be sure to cover your ears.

How others will see it. This by-the-numbers franchise entry drummed up slightly disappointing box office business. It was mostly ignored by the various awards festivals. At imdb.com, the user vote total of 24K is lower than expected, and the user rating of 6.5 is middling. Adult men are meh toward the film, but women over 45 generally enjoy it, and grade it 6.9 out of 10.

User reviews are all over the map. Most admit that the songs have clever lyrics, and any Tiny Fey appearance is appreciated. But inspiration is lacking.

How I felt about it. For most musicals, the key to the quality is the talkie scenes that bring continuity to the numbers. With Muppets Most Wanted, the connecting dialogue is something to be endured, but patience is rewarded (relatively speaking) when the next number finally arrives. Composer Bret McKenzie and lyricist Mickey Petralia are credited with the original songs, and they are okay-to-good with hints of cleverness.

The Muppets are all here, but most see limited screen time. The exceptions are Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the bland Walter and Scooter. Animal has a slightly larger role than usual, since despite his caveman intelligence, he is the only Muppet smart enough to recognize that Constantine isn't Kermit.

The Muppets are okay as always, but like their stage show, they need better material. Among the human actors, Gervais has the plum role and seems complacent about it. Ty Burrell is second billed but his French detective character is at best derivative of Inspector Clouseau. He does have an amusing running gag with Sam Eagle concerning which agent has the bigger badge. We like Tina Fey, but her scenes are relatively few. It is truly odd seeing such familiar faces as Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta reduced to chorus members. And Usher is an usher. So clever.

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