Review: ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ is loopier (and slightly better) than the first

Rowlf accompanies Miss Piggy as she launches on another Celine Dion number. Credit: Disney
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.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Pro arm wrestler calls himself real-life 'Hellboy'

You can call German arm-wrestler Matthias Schlitte "Hellboy."

Local

NY immigration groups to close over alleged fraud

Two of the largest non-profit immigration service groups in the United States will shut down after being accused of defrauding thousands of clients, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said…

Local

New York environment regulators seek summer shutdown at…

New York state environmental regulators are proposing shutting the giant Indian Point nuclear power plant to protect fish in the Hudson River during summer months, when demand for electricity for…

Local

Teen boy hospitalized in Harlem after green taxi…

A teenage boy is healing in a Harlem hospital from wounds suffered after a green taxi struck him in Harlem Sunday.

Entertainment

‘The Leftovers’ recap: Season 1, Episode 4, ‘B.J.…

Last week’s episode of “The Leftovers” was apparently a fluke, because this week’s episode returns to focusing on the Garveys and it is so boring.…

Movies

Interview: Luc Besson says 'Lucy' is very different…

Filmmaker Luc Besson talks about his new film "Lucy," how it's different than "Limitless" and his crazy first conversation with Egyptian actor Amr Waked.

Music

Weezer releases first new song since 2010

Weezer releases "Back to the Shack," their first new song in almost six years.

Movies

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a different kind of genius…

The man known worldwide for his portrayal of London's eccentric private detective Sherlock Holmes is trading his Belstaff coat for tweed this fall. Benedict Cumberbatch…

MLB

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according…

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according to report

NFL

Giants lineman Chris Snee to retire: Reports

The Giants report to training camp on Tuesday, but Chris Snee may not be there when they do.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony talks about his charity work in…

As he is used to doing every year, NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony is going to visit Puerto Rico to do work for his foundation.

MLB

New Jersey's Todd Frazier becoming star for Reds

Over the past week, the image of a 12-year-old Todd Frazier standing side-by-side with Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium in 1998, has been widely circulated.

Tech

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony becomes a tech entrepreneur

He's been an All-Star, an Olympian, and a celebrity spokesperson. Now NBA player Carmelo Anthony is adding the position "tech entrepreneur" to his resume. Along…

Tech

Ulises 1 is the world's first singing satellite

A group of artists and engineers in Mexico have unveiled Ulises 1, the world's first opera-singing satellite.

Home

Wallscape on a budget

Skip the wallpaper and ombre an accent wall instead.

Tech

The app Vent brings complaining — and nothing…

The social media app vent is built for one thing and one thing only: complaining to the outside world.