Review: Muppets Most Wanted

poster muppets2The Muppets used to be kind of a niche thing. You’d love them or you’d hate them. Whether the movies succeeded, or failed you could rest assured that muppets will be muppets for better or worse. The characters are nothing less than iconic. The personalities of Miss Piggy, Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie and the rest are so defined that any fan with enough multi-colored socks could put on a fairly convincing play. At the very least, there would be no confusing who was who. That’s why its so surprising that professional writers failed to tap into the natural reservoir of character traits and humor and instead tried to rewrite the Muppets’ DNA.

When Jason Segel took hold of the property for the 2011 film, he brought his fan sensibility with him and revitalized the franchise by taking it back to it’s roots, while simultaneously updating the humor for the current film going crowd. The Muppets were more themselves than they had been in decades, and they were still able to keep up in the post The Hangover comedy era. Nicholas Stoller, whose writing contributions include Fun With Dick and Jane and Yes Man cowrote the script and returned for the sequel without Segel’s much needed perspective. James Bobin, the inexperienced director with only some episodes of Da Ali G Show and Flight of the Concords on his writing resume, returned to helm the ill fated project and cowrite the script as well.

It was a mess!  First off, the opening number announces that they are making a sequel.  self referential humor can be very funny if you have the tact, but cynically singing that the sequel is “never quite as good” sets coordinates for an approach that is determined to rise above this accepted truth and truly entertain the way only Muppets do.  Sadly, it is a foreshadowing of the utter hopelessness of the film.  Instead of a straight forward quest rife with gag opportunities and surprising celebrity cameos, The Muppets most Wanted is bogged down by a part heist/ part jail break plot that ineffectively parodies the genres and fails to let the Muppets be Muppets.  The action scenes were ill conceived and the songs were just –BLAH!

There is no reason to see the film if you like the Muppets.  They are mere stuffing in a vehicle that only serves its three stars: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell.  Dominic Badguy (Gervais) is sidekick to an escapee from a Russian prison who uses his likeness to Kermit in order to infiltrate the group and lead them on a European tour that coincides with a series of planned robberies.  The bits between Burrell and Sam (an Interpol and CIA agent respectively) were the closest to being sufficient, but sadly fell to the wayside.  Fey plays the warden of the prison where Kermit is held by mistake.  A bigger mistake is the assumed staying power of a gag that has tough inmates portrayed by the likes of Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo prancing around in song and dance numbers.  The lack of skill and sentiment caused the bulk of the film’s humor to be either misplaced or misused, if not both at the same time.  The through line of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship was the only thing consistent with past Muppet ventures, the others are neglected and used only to further the ill conceived plot regardless of (or even in opposition to) their own inherent strengths.  The cameos, a muppet staple, amounted to such and such star appearing on screen for a couple of seconds.  The only real exceptions being, Usher playing an usher, and my favorite, Salma Hayek appearing as a guest on the show where none of the characters can be understood.

By the end of it I felt like the show not only lacked heart, it lacked genuine affection for the material and respect for the Muppet audience.  The sense of humor of the film seems to come at the expense of those who hoped to see a familiar style of comedy with some fresh surprises.  Their arrogance and laziness are at once incompatible and unexplainable.  There are some good laughs to be had here and there, but not enough to make this overwhelming disappointment worth the time.

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Film Review: Expendables 2

Sometimes you leave a particular film with a lot of thoughts or ideas that need to be talked out or talked through.  Other times you have a definite opinion right at the end.  You love it or you hate it.  Other times you might think you feel one way and on further reflection decide on the complete opposite.  All of these reactions are great for writing a review.  On the other hand the take it or leave it opinion is a little more difficult to express and the attitude of general disinterest implied makes it even harder to do any kind of write-up of a film.

Such was the case with The Expendables 2.  I liked the film.  It was corny, but it delivered for the most part.  I think if you paid for a ticket you should be satisfied with what you got.  On the other hand, if you haven’t yet bought one, I don’t think it’s necessary.

One of the things I loved about the first film was the sub plot.  The sequel lacks one.  Mickey Rourke’s character which contributed so much to the first film is absent in the second.  Other talent is brought in to fill the void, but they are mere cameos that add little depth to the big picture.  Depth is missing, but lots of video game type action sequences fill the top of the movie.  It takes it’s self much less seriously, I think to its detriment.  It’s kind of like an overweight kid making fat jokes to mask his insecurities.  These action dinosaurs do the same thing, but with plastic surgery.  Just kidding.  But not really.

I liked it.  I did.  There was some cool stuff and it pretty much lives up to every possible expectation.  What it lacked in plot complexity it made up for in big action and lot’s of cheesy dialogue.  I liked seeing it on a big screen and I’m not sure how it will translate on a smaller one, so it might be an all or nothing deal when it comes to seeing this particular picture.