Muppets Most Wanted (U)

Whilst on a grand world tour, The Muppets find themselves wrapped up in a European jewel-heist caper headed by a Kermit the Frog look-alike and his dastardly sidekick.

This latest Muppets sequel is a wacky international romp with far too many cameos from stars who are a little too eager to get in on the Muppet act.

Under the guidance of their sinister new manager Dominic Badguy, played by the dreary Ricky Gervais, the Muppets embark on a global tour, selling out grand theatres in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid and London. But disaster strikes when our beloved Kermit is kidnapped and replaced with by Constantine, the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit.

Poor Kermit is incarcerated in a Siberian gulag, and forced to direct the prisoners’ end-of-year revue show under the supervision of the cruel but Broadway-loving gulag governor Nadya (Tina Fey).

I was so disappointed when watching Muppets Most Wanted, I felt my own features squirming as if my inner puppeteer was clenching a fist. The movie is uneven and often grating, with only a few moments of authentic delight, and almost none of the laugh out loud moments of its vastly enjoyable 2011 forerunner.

This follow-up wears its sequel status just as proudly. Even the opening number is called ‘We’re Doing a Sequel’, and includes a winked aside about diminishing returns. As the film grinds on for the next two hours, the gag remains hanging in the air, and what once sounded chirpily self-deprecating starts to feel like an honest review.

The plot, in which Kermit is kidnapped by his doppelgänger Constantine during a Muppet tour of Europe, riffs on the caper movies of the Sixties and Seventies, and particularly the Pink Panther films — as did The Great Muppet Caper in 1981, which struck the perfect balance of farce, pastiche and gentle surrealism.

Of course, that film benefited from the presence of Charles Grodin, who played a suave international jewel thief and heaved every line to the back row of the stalls like a champion shot-putter. Here, the human co-star is Ricky Gervais, who by contrast burns through just enough energy to turn up.

Gervais plays Dominic Badguy, Constantine’s second-in-command, but his screen persona, all arch muttering and shifty grins, jars catastrophically with the film’s otherwise hopeful, frolicky spirit. His big cabaret song, ‘I’m Number One’ (complete with David Brent dance moves), has a weird, synthetic quality, as if it were a live projection of Gervais’s bad dream.

Unlike its predecessor few of the songs in this sequel hit their mark. Bret McKenzie, who wrote the soundtrack, did not manage to muster anything to match Life’s a Happy Song or Man or Muppet.

Other cast members had mixed fortunes: Ty Burrell, from the American sitcom Modern Family, fares pretty well as a Clouseau-esque Interpol agent, but Tina Fey, playing a Gulag commandant, gropes around for punchlines that aren’t there, and a near-endless stream of cameos drifts between funny and wearing. Even the normally menacing Christoph Waltz performing the Waltz can’t save the day.

There are some funny moments in this movie like the “Muppet ladder”, an act which foils the villains’ helicopter getaway is a joy. But the number of star cameos is just excessive and dilutes the movie’s vital ‘Muppetational’ quality. It feels like a feature-length version of a starry segment that would be used for an awards show.

Muppets Most Wanted is a disappointing sequel which erodes much of the Muppets’ magic. Even Kermit can’t see to hide his frustrated as he continuously scrunches up his face into a neat little packet of froggy despair.

The Muppets music is playing and the lights are lit, but it just feels like nobody’s home.

By Ruth Walker
★★★☆☆

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