Thursday, March 20, 2014

The MUPPETS Follow-up: Funny But Felt Too Long

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

(Dir. James Bobin, 2014)

The Muppets are back in “the seventh sequel since their original motion picture,” as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew informs us in the opening song and dance number (“We’re Doing a Sequel”), to prove that they don’t need Jason Segel’s help anymore to forge the franchise ahead. 

Since the first sequel to 1979’s THE MUPPET MOVIE, was a jewel heist scenario set overseas (1981’s THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER), returning director Bobin, co-writing with Nicholas Stoller have apparently decided that the new follow-up to the 2011 franchise reboot, THE MUPPETS, should go the same route.

That's fine by me because, unlike, say, J.J. Abram's STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, the movie doesn't retread the same ground blindly. It uses its premise for a springboard for a bunch of new inspired nonsense; it doesn't repeat as much as a single joke from before.

As one of human guest star leads, Ricky Gervais pops up as a slick promoter to suggest to Kermit the Frog: “How about the Muppets go on a world tour?” and we're off. Ignoring the red flag that Gervais' name is Dominic Badguy (“pronounced bædgee, it's French.”), The Muppets put on a series of shows on a tour that includes stops in Berlin, Madrid and London.

We learn in Plotpointburg (yep) that Gervais is Number Two to the world’s Number One criminal, Constantine, who happens to be Kermit's exact double, well, except for a distinctive mole. Constantine (voiced with a heavy Russian accent by Matt Fogel) frames Kermit by planting a fake mole on him, which gets him captured and placed in prison, a Siberian Gulag run by Tina Fey, also laying the Russian accent on thick.

Constantine takes Kermit’s place - despite his accent and demeanor none of the other Muppets notice (well, Animal does but nobody pays attention) – so that he and Gervais can pull off museum and bank robberies while the others put on their noisy shows in the neighboring venues.

Another of the highlighted humans, Modern Family’s Ty Burrell is on board as an Inspector Clouseau-ish Interpol agent who works with Sam the Eagle to track down the thieves, and somehow they are able to fit in cameos by such celebrities as Lady Gaga, Christoph Waltz (dancing a waltz, of course), Frank Langella, Céline Dion, and Ray Liotta (who was also in MUPPETS IN SPACE incidentally).

This is all funny stuff, and Brett McKenzie’s incredibly catchy witty songs are all just as strong as his Oscar winning “Man or Muppet” from THE MUPPETS - especially Constantine’s soul ballad sung to Miss Piggy: “I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” – but at an hour and 53 minutes, the movie is way too long.

Even with every scene having at least one big legitimate laugh, a bunch of bits should’ve been shaved off to make this a tight 90 minutes or so. 

A scene in which we learn that Fey is a closet Kermit fan is cute but would’ve been better as a deleted scene on the later Blu ray/DVD release. Likewise some of the storyline involving Fey’s staging a production in prison with Kermit and his Gulag inmates (including McKenzie’s former Flight of the Conchords partner Jermaine Clement) could’ve been edited down a bit, as funny as it is to see Danny Trejo singing a verse of “The Casa Grande.”

Overall, I enjoyed MUPPETS MOST WANTED quite a bit, but just wanted it to end earlier. Bobin, Stoller, McKenzie, and all the Muppeteers (shout out to Dave Goelz, the only original member of the original Muppet team here) are doing a good job keeping the spirit of Henson’s warm and fuzzy vision alive, they just need to reign it in.

So here’s hoping that the Muppets next sequel, in which they’ll probably be Broadway bound, will find them putting on a tighter show with a much more reasonable running time.

More later...

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