Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz (voices), Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Jemaine Clement, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Cˇline Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chlo‘ Grace Moretz, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci, Usher, Christoph Waltz
Written by: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Directed by: James Bobin
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild action
Running Time: 112
Date: 03/21/2014

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Piggy in the Cities

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Created by Jim Henson back in the 1970s, the Muppets were always self-aware, culturally current, and referential. The thrust of the stories was basically timeless -- road movies, love stories, "let's put on a show" stories, etc. -- but the jokes were modern, and even postmodern. Now in a time when filmmakers seem to be aiming kids' movies at grownups anyway -- including The Lego Movie and Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- the new Muppets Most Wanted fits right in.

With The Muppets (2011), writer/actor Jason Segel and a handful of talented folks from the "Flight of the Conchords" TV show reinvigorated the Muppets for a new century. The new Muppets Most Wanted literally takes place the second that movie ends and an assistant director calls "that's a wrap." The newly reunited, victorious team looks at each other and wonders, "what now"?

Well, now it's time for a world tour, and a slick promoter/manager, Dominic Badguy -- the last name is French -- played by Ricky Gervais, turns up to help. Basically the plan is for Dominic to play Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire) against the rest of the team, getting them to put their trust in him. This is so that Kermit can be dispatched, and sent to a Siberian prison, while an evil duplicate, the international criminal frog Constantine (voiced by Matt Vogel) can take his place. Then, as they tour the world, Dominic and Constantine can use the Muppet show as a cover to steal the world's greatest valuables.

In a spoof of many cop movies, a French policeman, Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) reluctantly teams up with an American one (Sam the Eagle, voiced by Jacobson), to track down the thieves. (Many jokes are made about French working hours.) Meanwhile, Constantine must deal with the lovestruck Miss Piggy (voiced by Eric Jacobson) and decides to marry her to keep her happy. At the same time, a hardened prison warden, Nadya (Tina Fey), falls for Kermit and tries to get him to help out on the annual prison talent show.

Following the tradition of The Muppet Movie (1979), this one features many cameos, some of which are too funny to list. They are mostly used in accordance with, or in opposition to, the stars' own names and personalities. For example, when a character seeks an usher at Miss Piggy's wedding, who should turn around but the pop star Usher?

Once again, the wonderful songs are by Bret McKenzie, who won an Oscar for "Man or Muppet" from the previous movie. It's hard to pick a standout this time, but "We're Doing a Sequel" is pretty funny, "I'll Get What You Want" is a great send-up of a Barry White-like romantic come-on, and "The Big House" has a kind of doo-wop flavor, with Tina Fey taking some cool lead vocals.

The movie is so funny and so in the moment that it may seem like a throwaway, but there's something magical about the Muppets that makes even the 35 year-old original movie still seem fresh. I think it's their general innocence and hope, like the hope that keeps the inept Fozzie Bear performing comedy year after year, or the hope that the hecklers Statler and Waldorf will one day see something of quality, or the hope that Piggy will get her frog. Let's hope that people check out Muppets Most Wanted and keep this viable franchise afloat.

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