Muppets Most Wanted begins with a song about the fact that the Muppets are making a sequel to their comeback film–a song that sheepishly admits the sequel is “never quite as good”. And this isn’t quite as good as The Muppets; that film felt like a labor of love, like an event. This doesn’t. But that doesn’t make it a bad film by any stretch–despite some shortcomings, it’s for the most part a highly entertaining little romp with everyone’s favorite felt celebrities.
Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog (and one of its most wanted criminals) escapes from the Gulag at the same time the Muppets are trying to figure out their next move. Kermit suggests taking time to regroup, but an oily promoter (Ricky Gervais) named Dominic Badguy (pronounced “bajee”–“It’s French”) wants them to make a world tour, which he’ll manage, and after winning over the rest of the Muppets, Kermit reluctantly accepts Dominic’s terms.
It soon becomes clear that Dominic is actually in league with Constantine–as Constantine repeatedly and obnoxiously points out, the #2 to Constantine’s #1. The reason for Dominic’s interest in the Muppets becomes obvious, too; Constantine and Kermit are nearly identical, except for a mole Constantine has on his cheek. The Muppet tour arrives in Berlin, and conflicts over the content of the show (Kermit tries to keep things under control, while Dominic tells the Muppets they can do as they please) send Kermit, at Dominic’s suggestion, on a walk in a dark, foggy neighborhood, where Constantine attacks him and slaps a fake mole on his cheek before escaping. The clueless Kermit is arrested moments later and sent to the Gulag, whilst Constantine, covering his mole with makeup, takes his place and, despite knowing nothing of the Muppets and sporting only the finest fake Eastern European accent, fools the rest of the Muppets.
The theater Dominic chose in Berlin turns out to be next door to an art museum which houses a treasure he and Constantine plan to steal, using the show as cover, with plans to commit other thefts in other European centers. Kermit waits anxiously for his friends while the Gulag commandant (Tina Fey) strongarms him into managing a revue for the prisoners; an Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and Sam Eagle pursue the thieves, unaware of their true identities; Walter (the everyman introduced in the last film), Fozzie, and Animal begin to suspect Constantine is not who he seems; and Constantine shocks everyone by proposing to Miss Piggy–only he plans to use the wedding, at the Tower of London (“the world’s most romantic spot”) as cover for his greatest theft–that of the British Crown Jewels.
The story is, admittedly, a fairly predictable one, and the jewel thefts themselves are fairly perfunctory (the climactic theft, shot on a cheap set that looks about as good as anything in the recent Baby Geniuses films, is particularly blah), but one doesn’t go to a Muppet movie for the plot, one goes for the fun. And there is certainly fun to be had here. Bret McKenzie’s songs are quite delightful, especially the opening “We’re Doing a Sequel”, the Constantine/Dominic duet “I’m Number One” (a great vaudevillian bit, with Gervais showing some decent song-and-dance skills), and “I’ll Get You What You Want”, where Constantine woos Miss Piggy in grandly fraudulent style.
And the gags come thick and fast as well. There are Constantine’s attempts to imitate Kermit (which could charitably be called “half-assed”); there’s Gonzo’s dream sketch, the “indoor Running of the Bulls”; there’s the Madrid newspaper that uses a rating scale of 1-5 jamón serranos; there’s the “who has the bigger badge” dickwaving between the Interpol agent and Sam Eagle; and there’s the jab at self-indulgent drum solos (Animal’s goes on for something like two hours). And that’s just scratching the surface. I was quite constantly amused.
James Bobin’s direction is adequate, and the script, co-written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller, has the aforementioned qualities and drawbacks. The production values are adequate but unremarkable, and the finale features some rather poor green-screen work–not a serious issue, but surprising for a major studio production.
The Muppets themselves are a blast as ever; Steve Whitmire (Kermit, etc.), Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam Eagle, etc.), Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen, etc.), Bill Barretta (Pepe, Rowlf, The Swedish Chef, etc.), David Rudman (Scooter, etc.), Matt Vogel (Constantine, Sweetums, etc.), and Peter Linz (Walter) all do exemplary work. It’s the humans who let the film down a bit. I’m not the biggest fan of Gervais, but his turn as Dominic is actually quite amusing; he’s more of a schlub than a true jerk. Fey has fun camping it up as the commandant (her Russian accent is fake, but not too bad for all that), and she even manages to sell the commandant’s unrequited love for Kermit (she also has a fun number about the “joys” of Gulag life). On the other hand, Ty Burrell plays the Interpol agent (named Jean-Pierre Napoleon; I had to look up the name afterwards, which may give you an idea of how memorable he is), and he’s pretty weak. Apparently the role was originally meant for Christoph Waltz, which would have been a good deal better; as it is, Burrell plays a pretty lazy French stereotype (ha ha, short working days, paid vacations, and dinky cars), and his accent is so goofy it grows tiresome. He’s not outright horrible, but he doesn’t help the film either.
The celebrity cameos are also a mixed bag. Waltz does show up (he dances a waltz (zing!) with Sweetums), but he seems somewhat uninvolved; he’s also unshaven for some reason, which proves a mild distraction. Salma Hayek appears during the performance in Madrid, assisting Gonzo with his act; she too comes off as awkward and unenthused. On the other hand, you’ve got Frank Langella as a vicar (looking for all the world like Christopher Lee), musing wistfully as a stained-glass window is shattered (“Oh, that’s only 800 years old or so”); Til Schweiger, Hugo Stiglitz himself, as a German policeman; Usher, punning on his name; Danny Trejo as himself (in the Gulag); Tom Hiddleston as “the Great Escapo”; and Céline Dion duetting with Miss Piggy. It’s not as good a roster as the previous film, but they get the job done.
In the end, that’s what Muppets Most Wanted does: gets the job done. It does so with plenty of wit, and showcases its true stars well. It’s a fine family entertainment, as good as anything as you’ll see this early in the year. Give it a look.