Alas, here’s another sequel that sadly lives up to the Second Movie Theory: the predecessor is usually better.
While the Movie Man wasn’t blown away by “The Muppets” in 2011 (a 6), this sequel is certainly less impressive.
ABOUT THE FILM
Muppet history goes way back – from early appearances on TV’s “Sesame Street” to the puppets shooting to the top of the pop culture zeitgeist in the 1970s in a TV show that every major star of the day scrambled to be on.
Movies followed, but, like plenty of fads through the years, the Muppet bloom faded.
Then, a generation that grew up on the critters began harkening back nostalgically like all generations do. And there stood those happy, slightly wonky Muppets. Thirty-four-year old Jason Segal was one of those kids who watched the TV show as a boy. He was the primary impetus for the big screen revival.
“The Muppets” of 2011 film was a hit – not a mammoth success at $88.6 million but, thanks to a $29.2 million opening week, enough of a positive that a sequel was quickly OK’d.
Part of the fun of that movie was the inclusion of cameos – some very brief – by a slew of popular actors. That’s prevalent in “Muppets Most Wanted,” too.
The rebirthed Muppets also clung to their low-rent Broadway song and dance numbers. That 2011 movie even won an Academy Award for Best Original Song with the witty “Man or Muppet.”
Of course, it only had to beat out one tune, from the animated movie “Rio.”
There was a time when Best Song was a major battle, an era when a movie’s theme song was often a major pop hit.
For long stretches, every Oscar winner for Best Original Song was also a big radio hit. From 69-73, there were:
- “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” 1969, B.J. Thomas, No. 1;
- “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers,” 1970, the Carpenters, No. 3;
- “Theme from Shaft,” 1971, Isaac Hayes, No. 1;
- “The Morning After,” from “The Poseidon Adventure,” 1972, Maureen McGovern, No. 1; and
- “The Way We Were: from “The Way We Were,” 1973, Barbra Streisand.
An even more awesome stretch came in 1980-87:
- “Fame” from “Fame,” 1980, Irene Cara, No. 4;
- “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur,” 1981, Christopher Cross, No. 1;
- “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman,” 1982, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, No. 1;
- “Flashdance What a Feeling” from “Flashdance,” 1983, Irene Cara, No. 1;
- “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from “The Woman in Red,” 1984, Stevie Wonder, No. 1;
- “Say You, Say Me” from “White Nights,” 1985, Lionel Richie, No. 1;
- “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun,” 1986, Berlin, No. 1; and
- “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing,” 1987, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, No. 1.
Today, few major songs from movies are hits, though the most recent Best Song winner, “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” is an exception.
The Muppets, fresh off their 2011 movie, are encouraged to go on a world tour under the auspices of promoter Dominic (Ricky Gervais). But he plans on teaming up with evil Constantine – a dead ringer for Kermit the Frog – and pulling off a great heist.
Kermit gets arrested and sent to a Russian gulag overseen by Nadya (Tina Fey). His place in the Muppets’ troupe is taken by Constantine as the puppets tour foreign cities.
Gervais and Constantine must collect hidden artifacts – a painting, a key and a locket – before they can rob the Tower of London. So the Muppets “tour” a few major capitals where the evil duo gathers the items.
Only a couple of Muppets suspect Kermit’s been replaced. Eventually, the real Kermit is rescued and the bad guys are thwarted with very minor help from a French detective (Ty Burrell) and Muppet Sam the Eagle.
There are a few cute moments, like seeing Christoph Waltz waltz with a giant Muppet or seeing Kermit/Constantine standing on Gervais’ head.
The only memorable song is a near-dead-on 70s soul mimic called “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu).” But it’s not really “Best Song” worthy.
And the final shot of the movie has some of that sly Muppet humor that is so missing in the rest of the movie.
A voice from a metallic solitary confinement area sings out occasionally in the Russian gulag. When Kermit organizes a criminal talent show, the owner of that captive voice is finally revealed briefly. It’s pretty funny – and from a guy who is proving to be a master of dashing his own ego.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Wow, “Most Wanted” is really not very funny. For every stray chuckle – Fey walks down the line of locked-down prisoners’ cells saying goodnight to each off camera, “Killer” and “Scar,” then eventually says “Danny Trejo,” the name of an actor in the movie – almost 99 percent die. They’re not wincingly unfunny bad, just bad.
The plot is a rehash from an earlier Muppet movie and that’s OK, but “Most Wanted” is terribly slow and uneven. It looks hurried and just thrown together.
Worst of all are the songs. It seems like there are a hundred, and all but one is either immediately forgettable or too unintelligible. Even an attempt at being self-aware in a hipster sort of way fails when the first song addresses the fact that sequels are always worse than the originals.
Even the stinger – the post-end credits bit – is nothing worth staying for.
There is nothing offensive here. It’s a “PG” for rude humor, but there’s very little of it.
“Muppets Most Wanted” is almost two hours long, and it feels like much more. The audience with the Movie Man was almost dead quiet the entire movie – even the kids got seat-bouncing bored.