Film review: MUPPETS MOST WANTED, from Built For Speed

Clearly hoping to mine Gen-X nostalgia as well as the lucrative school holiday market, Disney gives us the latest adventure for Kermit and the Muppet gang in the star-packed but underwhelming Muppets Most Wanted.

A familiar plot sees Kermit (voiced by Steve Whitmire) attempting to reassemble the team for a major tour of the classic Muppet theatre show. Lacking money and contacts, Kermit enlists sleazy British talent agent Domenic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who mysteriously manages to book them into the most prestigious European theatres.  Secretly, Badguy and the sinister Russian criminal, Constantine, who has just escaped from a Siberian Gulag and who is a dead ringer for Kermit, are using the Muppet tour as a cover for a series of major thefts. Tracking the crimes across Europe are our old buddy the pompous American eagle and the Inspector Clouseau-like Interpol detective Jean Pierre Napoleon (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell).

Despite numerous sight gags, action sequences and pop-cultural references Muppets Most Wanted is surprisingly uninspired.  Most disappointingly, it’s just not funny; even the barbs from the grumpy old men in the balcony fall flat.  Old film buffs might giggle through their beards at the parody of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal which features the Swedish chef as the knight errant but this is meant to be a kids’ movie and at my preview, the littlies weren’t laughing. 

Surprisingly, though, the film manages to produce some genuinely lively musical set pieces where, for once, the songs are actually listenable and quite tuneful.

Too often, the film relies on celebrity cameos which results in a bizarre mix of stars including Lady Gaga, Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, P-Diddy and Selma Hayek, none of whom are given anywhere near enough material to work with.

Those in the lead roles don’t fare much better. Gervais once again plays that oily contemptible variation on David Brent that he’s portrayed in most of his Hollywood movie roles and awards hosting gigs.  Amid the welter of sub-plots and sight gags he doesn’t have the opportunity to register a memorable performance.  Ty Burrell who only appears sporadically as the bumbling and unmotivated Inspector Napoleon is forgettable; he only seems to be there so the film can send up the supposedly leisurely European work ethic.  More memorable is Tina Fey as the alluring femme fatale commandant of the gulag from which Constantine escapes. She even provides the film’s best song, a very catchy Russian-inflected doo-wop number. The various Muppets including Gonzo, Miss Piggy and Animal do their usual thing which, even after four decades is still endearing but the theatrical segments in this film lack the anarchic wit of the original TV show.

The film begins to drag about half way through as opts for an irritatingly clichéd resolution.  Seemingly, in their haste to extract as many dollars from the Muppet franchise as they could, Disney forgot that rather important element, a decent script.  Muppets Most Wanted isn’t a bad film, just a disappointing one.

Nick’s rating: ** 1/2

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: G.

Director(s): James Bobin.

Release date: 10th April 2014

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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