Muppets Most Wanted: Workable but Uninspired

muppets_most_wanted_posterDespite the promising title, the new big-screen reboot of the Muppets is anything but wanted, though I realize that there’s a built-in audience for this fare, even when it’s mediocre.

By standards of the 2011 “The Muppets,” this eighth chapter in the long saga of our favorite Miss Piggy, Kermit, and company, created by the great Jim Henson, is a step down.  No wonder the opening number is titled “We’re Doing a Sequel.”  The whole enterprise is so calculated and self-conscious that the filmmakers had to acknowledge those facts, and what better way than in a (pedestrian) song.

In 2011, “The Muppets” proved the nay-sayers wrong, grossing over 165 million at the global box-office, proving that there is demand for such an entertainment.

It’s too bad that the filmmakers could not come up with a more original story and tell it with more zest and energy that are evident on screen.  By now animations that rely on transcontinental capers are too familiar.

The presence of the gifted Jason Segel, who was almost single-handedly responsible for the successful revival three years ago, is very much missed here, both as a writer and as an actor and singer.

To be sure, the filmmakers behind “The Muppets Most Wanted” are veterans, familiar enough with the tradition to come up with a workable but uninspired tale.  The movie is directed by James Robin, who also helmed the last one, and her also serves as co-writer along with Nicholas Stoller.

As a follow-up, Muppets Most Wanted lacks spark, audacity and wit, perhaps out of fear of failure, or too much eagerness to please the biased spectators, some of whom would see any film featuring the amiable creatures.

Early one Kermit and friends realize that to maintain their popularity they need a good concept. To that extent they brainstorm and reject such facile ideas as “Gonzo With the Wind,” instead deciding to embark on a lavish journey.

The road is not so easy.  One obstacle is represented by the slich and greedy manager, Dominic Badguy, nicely played by Ricky Gervais.  Known for his facility with impersonations and accents, Gervais makes a point that his name is pronounced “Bad-JEE”—because “it’s French.”  Kermit is not too excited by Dominic’s idea of renting Berlin’s largest house for their first show, but the other Muppets disagree with the Kermit.

In a related sub-plot, unbeknownst to Kermit, the shrewd Miss Piggy plans to use the tour as a backdrop for her upcoming wedding and honeymoon.

The story the takes a an arbitrary turn for the worse when Kermit is suddenly kidnapped and thrown into a Siberian gulag, where he is at the mercy of Russian crooks and Nadja (Tina Fey), prison guard with showbiz aspirations who show immediate crush on Kermit.

Then, again out of the blue, Kermit is replaced by his evil double Constantine, described as the world’s most dangerous frog.  Except for a beauty mark and a heavy Slavic accent, you could mistake Constantin for Kermit.

Big question is, how long would it take the Muppets to discover the evil master thief among them, and to realize that Dominic is (ab)using the musical shows to cover up a series of heists, meant to culminate at the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

Adding some color to the proceedings is a pair of investigating cops, played by Ty Burrell (of TV’s “Modern Family’s fame) and Sam the Eagle.

As we watch Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Rowlf and Walter engaged in these silly schemes we can’t help but recall nostalgically the joy and pleasure that the Muppets have given us decades ago.