Sunday, September 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Muppets Most Wanted (2014) ***

PG, 107 min.
Director: James Bobin
Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Jermaine Clement, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Mackenzie Crook, Céline Dion, Lady Gaga, Zack Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloë Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz
Voices: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz

At the beginning of “Muppets Most Wanted” the entire muppet cast sings a musical number about the fact that they’re making a sequel. During the song they admit that sequels aren’t quite as good as the original. “Muppets Most Wanted” isn’t as good as its predecessor, simply titled “The Muppets”, but it retains the same spirit captured by that one, inspired by the original “The Muppet Show” television series.

Challenged to come up with a storyline for their sequel, the Muppets decide to tour Europe with their show. They travel by train and I think miss some opportunities for jokes by simply ignoring the fact that you can’t get to Europe from America by train. It seems they were setting up a joke for which they forgot to deliver a punchline.

That’s OK though, because there are plenty of punchlines to be found here. It turns out their tour manager is working with Constantine, the World’s Most Dangerous Frog, who happens to look just like Kermit except for a mole on his face. They trick Kermit into taking Constantine’s place in a Russian Gulag and the evil frog takes Kermit’s place on the tour, which only plays theaters located near museums with valuable treasures to steal.

Really, with a Muppet movie, the plot hardly matters. It’s all an excuse to place the Muppets in situations where it’s amusing to see a puppet instead of a real person. Much of that includes placing the Muppets next to big name stars acting silly. In keeping with Muppet tradition, this film is filled with cameo appearances. Ricky Gervais, “Modern Family”s Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey take the primary human roles, but there are also great cameos by Ray Liotta, Jermaine Clement, Danny Trejo, Josh Groban, Céline Dion, Salma Hayek and Christoph Waltz.

The best elements are the more subtle jokes. Asides made by minor Muppet characters are good, as are background gags, of which there are plenty to reward the astute viewer. The musical number “I Can Give You What You Want” performed by Constantine trying to convince Miss Piggy that he loves her is a highlight of the film.

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