Rowlf accompanies Miss Piggy as she launches on another Celine Dion number. Credit: Disney
‘Muppets Most Wanted’ Director: James Bobin Stars: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey Rating: PG 4 (out of 5) Globes
“Muppets Most Wanted” begins with our cloth-made heroes panicking over how to follow up their 2011 reboot, and mocking the very idea of sequels in song. (“The sequel's never quite as good!”) A more subversive number would assert that sequels are a chance to ditch the pomp and burdensome introductions of a first film and just have fun. Not that “The Muppets” was remotely tedious, though it did have more to prove than its follow-up — that it could revive a dead franchise, that it could recreate the old magic without Jim Henson, that it could overcome a ridiculously humorless far right smear campaign targeting its use of a greedy oil man baddie. A sequel is nothing.
Of course, “Muppets Most Wanted” doesn’t have the benefit of earth-quaking nostalgia, which the first both exploited and explored. It has to be judged on its own merits. And luckily it’s a sprightly and terminally silly construction, certainly the oddest plotted of any of the Muppet movies. The sequel — although as Bunsen points out, in a typical throwaway gag, this is technically the seventh sequel — finds Kermit and company preyed upon by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who convinces them to rush into a European tour, despite them having no decent new numbers (save a two hour Animal drum solo, natch). As his surname suggests, he’s a thief whose partner, Constantine, is a dead ringer for Kermit, except for his sinister mole.
Constantine switches places with Kermit, who is shipped off to a Siberian gulag run by Tina Fey. This sets up the token homily: about how the other Muppets (and the audience, presumably) take Kermit for granted and doesn’t notice when he’s replaced by a doppelganger with a broad Russian accent and a more angular way of closing his mouth. OK, it's not really a lesson so much as an ode to the important function of the boring straight man amongst a den of wacky grotesques. (It also, unfortunately, serves as a reminder that Kermit’s been a bit of an emo wet blanket in these two films, and that vocal performer Steve Whitmire is definitely no Jim Henson.)
But the seriousness doesn’t come until the very, very end, and is quickly forgotten anyway. It’s mostly mere goofing around. This is a far, far loopier film than the first, with cameos both wearyingly token (Usher, Diddy, Gags) and bizarre (Toby Jones! Frank Langella! Miranda Richardson!). There's less of new guy Walter (who's nevertheless well used). Constantine gets the best song, in which he dons a leisure suit plus sleazy chain while crooning about armadillos. (Actually the best number goes to Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo singing Boyz II Men. This movie is weird.)
This is an inelegant comparison, but “Muppets Most Wanted” is “Help!” to the first one’s “A Hard Day’s Night” — a freewheeling block of inventive nonsense that will go underrated and undervalued. The world should be filled with dozens of “Muppets Most Wanted”-type franchise numbers, not aborted stabs at Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. That said, it does tragically shortchange Rowlf and Gonzo.