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"MUPPETS MOST WANTED"
(2014) (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: While out on a world tour, little do the Muppets realize that their leader, Kermit the Frog, has been replaced by an escaped criminal with nefarious plans.
PLOT:
Now that their variety and comedy act has been reassembled (at the end of 2011's "The Muppets"), Kermit the Frog (voice of STEVE WHITMIRE) and his crew -- that includes Miss Piggy (voice of ERIC JACOBSON), Fozzie Bear (voice of ERIC JACOBSON), Animal (voice of ERIC JACOBSON), The Great Gonzo (voice of DAVE GOELZ), newest member Walter (voice of PETER LINZ), and others -- wonder what's next. They quickly get the answer in the form of Dominic Badguy (RICKY GERVAIS), a promoter who promises to make them even bigger via an international tour of their act. While Kermit isn't sure, the others eventually convince him to sign on Dominic as their co-manager.

Little do they know that he's just using them in a plan he's concocted with super-villain Constantine (voice of MATT VOGEL), the world's number one criminal who's just escaped from a Russian gulag. Since he looks just like Kermit (save for one facial mole that's now been painted over), their scheme is to have others mistake Kermit for him, all while he takes Kermit's place in the act where the performance venues just so happen to be located next to museums, banks and such. Their covert crime spree draws the attention of CIA agent Sam the Eagle (voice of ERIC JACOBSON) as well as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (TY BURRELL) who clash over how to investigate and track down the criminals.

At the same time, Kermit ends up imprisoned in the Siberian gulag where he must not only contend with hardened criminals including the likes of Big Papa (RAY LIOTTA), Prison King (JEMAINE CLEMENT) and Danny Trejo (DANNY TREJO), but also the guard, Nadya (TINA FEY), who doesn't let anything get by her and has a secret reason for wanting Kermit there forever.

As Constantine and Dominic continue their ruse -- with only Animal figuring it out, although Walter starts to become suspicious as well -- they make their way around the globe, intent on eventually pulling off a legendary heist, all while Kermit tries to figure out how to get himself out of the gulag.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
While I'm no Muppets fanatic (I don't have any fan paraphernalia and haven't bought any of their movies), I've enjoyed what they've offered over the decades, spanning all of the way back to watching them on TV in the 1970s when that wasn't exactly cool for a kid of my age at that time. Thus, I was pleased to see their return to the big screen back in 2011's "The Muppets," a film to which I gave a favorable review.

Hearing that Kermit and company were returning in this spring's "Muppets Most Wanted," I was looking forward to see what sort of lively, zany and overall entertaining material the filmmakers would deliver for these near universally beloved characters. Alas, and despite some fun moments here and there along with a decent opening, this sequel feels like a let-down. To be straight, it's far from awful, but much of what's present comes off as nothing better than mediocre, something that really shouldn't be associated with this franchise.

In fact, the film's opening number -- that takes up seemingly right after the conclusion of the 2011 film if memory serves me right -- is "We're Doing a Sequel," a cute ditty pointing out some of the usual sequel issues that, sadly, ultimately befall this offering. While various other musical numbers (some decent, some surprisingly bland) are scattered about among the film's nearly two-hour runtime, it's the plot and related jokes that ultimately steal most of the pic's thunder

Last time around, it was fun and funny to follow the "whatever happened to" storyline regarding what the various Muppets had been up to since we last saw them. And that was followed by the old "let's put a band together" (or "comedy act" in that case) plot thrust where two brothers and one of their girlfriends served as the catalyst for making that happen. While one of those characters -- Walter the newly introduced Muppet -- returns here, the very human Jason Segel and Amy Adams have not returned

Instead, the story focus is split into two parts. One revolves around a Kermit look-alike (save for a small facial mole, not to mention a thick Slavic accent) named Constantine who escapes from a Russian Gulag, fools Kermit into being mistaken for him, and then takes his place along the rest of the Muppets and their new manager (a very present but mostly underused Ricky Gervais).

It turns out Constantine and Dominic Badguy (pronounced "Bad-Gee") are in cahoots and want to use the Muppets' international tour as a cover for eventually making their way to London to steal the Crown Jewels. That ends up involving two competitive law enforcement agents, Sam the Eagle of the CIA and Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon ("Modern Family's" Ty Burrell making fun of the French and French lifestyle in a running gag that eventually wears thin).

At the same time, the real Kermit gets sent to that same Gulag where he must contend with a variety of criminals (played by the likes of Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo and Jemaine Clement) as well as the apparently all-knowing and observant guard (Tina Fey, also underused, nearly criminally in terms of wasting comedic talent as she's forced mostly to just doing a stereotypical Russian accent) who has a special reason why she's intent on keeping the green frog around.

There's potential in all of that, and returning writer/director James Bobin and co-screenwriter Nick Stoller occasionally mine that fairly well. Considering the comparison between this material and that which appeared in the 2011 film, it appears Segel (who co-wrote that film with Stoller) was/is the necessary missing link to make it funnier, both in front of and behind the camera.

Yes, there's humor for the both kids and adults alike (with some of the latter obviously likely to go over the heads of younger viewers). Yet, much of the mediocrity had me repeatedly wishing it would turn into the outright zaniness and creativity of the "Airplane" or "Naked Gun" movies. I realize that's not the desired intent of all involved, but since so many moments kept hinting at going that direction, I wanted it to go full bore.

Instead, too much of it ended up boring rather than delighting me as occurred far more often the last time around. Again, it's not bad, but I imagine I won't be alone in hoping but then ultimately being disappointed that this sequel doesn't match up to its predecessor. And that makes "Muppets Most Wanted" sort of cinematically criminal. Accordingly, it rates as just a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 15, 2014 / Posted March 21, 2014


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