Muppets Most Wanted (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

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After the success of their reunion show the Muppet gang hires expert promoter Dominic Badguy to run the next leg of their career - a European tour.  However, in Russian gulag, an ominous and familiar-looking frog stages a daring escape.  How will this amoral amphibian run afoul of our plush heroes?  Muppets Most Wanted answers that question and more in the sequel to 2011's The Muppets.

Wrapping it up in time for the nextEven though Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller started writing the screenplay for The Muppets in 2008, it still managed to play like one of those comic book origin films that were starting to pick up steam.  We had our outsider, Walter, trying to do some good in the world and gathering the Muppets back together while getting a bit of their histories and conflicts onscreen for those of us who didn't grow up on their antics.  The result was a mixed bag of quality.  The Muppets ended up feeling like a side-plot at times, whose personalities were only called on when a joke was needed to enhance the love plot between Segel and Amy Adams, and new addition Walter acting like a wet rag too many times.

But during The Muppets you could see bits of anarchy trying to break through, especially during the many tortured pleas of Jack Black as he was held hostage and eventually led off for sacrifice.  This spirit does not manifest entirely in Muppets Most Wanted, as we'd run out of performers to have cameos in the next film if they're all killed off-screen.  But Most Wanted ditches the sometimes overwrought sentimentality and heavy nods to the past in The Muppets to gleefully do its own thing from start to finish.

Going to go ahead and get my 2 cents out - this is my favorite visual gag of 2014.

Going to go ahead and get my 2 cents out - this is my favorite visual gag of 2014.

I thought a lot of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle when I watched Most Wanted.  That less to do with the hilariously overdone accents that Tina Fey and Ty Burrell put on and more to do with the sheer amount of bad puns, great visual gags, and extensive knowledge of various types of culture.  There are many moments in Most Wanted that stand on their own as jokes just fine, but take on another level if you are familiar with the source material.  This is my long-winded way of saying that I am the perfect audience for a comedy that uses Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, and Kermit's perfectly curt, "I don't think Americans watch subtitled films," afterwards gives the joke that extra kick.

One of the things that Most Wanted does better than The Muppets is move the human characters off to the periphery and make the film more about their shenanigans.  Even better, all the humans are antagonists to the Muppets in some way, so they get to play off of the comic personas they establish for the film instead of acting in near-constant harmony the whole time.  Burrell and Sam Eagle (voiced by Eric Jacobson) are perfect for one another with Burrell hamming it up with his casual investigative style and flamboyant French accent while Sam kicks his boisterous American exceptionalism up a few levels.  There's even a fun nod to the original sequel to the original with Fey forming an unhealthy obsession with Kermit that harkens back to the cross-species attraction in The Great Muppet Caper.

As with most Muppet-related ventures, there's a lot of singing, and peaks early with the funny, "We're Doing A Sequel."  It pokes fun at the diminishing returns of most second installments with a barrage of terrible ideas for the plot.  There are some great highlights later, especially "The Interrogation Song" which gives more room for Burrell and Sam to shine, but the Celine Dion and Miss Piggy duet of "Something So Right" feels like an attempt at capturing that "Man or Muppet" magic from The Muppets all over again.

When you want to one-up someone, make sure you have a smithy on call.

When you want to one-up someone, make sure you have a smithy on call.

The one real gripe I have with Most Wanted is the one thing that made the Muppets so magical to begin with, their freedom of movement.  The Muppet Movie's effects still hold up so well because of the matter-of-fact way they present the Muppets moving throughout the real world.  I have no doubt that a great number of practical Muppetry tricks were used in getting them to interact with the world, but villain Constantine's constant flipping and karate moves tired me quickly.  Constantine's Muppeteer makes up for it with some delightful facial expressions, but the wide-angle action gimmickry is flashy without being much fun.

Like The Muppets, Most Wanted isn't likely to become a classic on the level of the original film or even The Muppet Christmas Carol.  But I admire its spirit and willingness to follow the Muppets and their wacky adversaries down whatever gag-filled plot thread.  I smiled the whole time, and laughed a lot, which is a fine trade-off for whatever romantic possibilities the previous film held.

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Tail - Muppets Most WantedMuppets Most Wanted (2014)

Directed by James Bobin.
Screenplay written by Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin.
Starring Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey with the vocal performances of Steve Whitmire, Matt Vogel, Eric Jacobson, and many more.

Posted by Andrew

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