Film Review: Muppets Most Wanted

A caper movie crossed with a prison picture, this second Muppets outing from new owner Disney is self-referential fun in the troupe's traditional hip/smart/campy corny-copia.

A Muppet movie for movie lovers, this sequel to 2011's successful The Muppets picks up where the last movie left off. Literally—it starts with "The End" and then fades in to the first film's Hollywood Boulevard ending. Continuing in this self-referential vein, the characters reason that with the first movie done, they have to make a sequel. But what kind? And so we're off to a Mel Brooksian montage of various genres and tropes, including, most hilariously, the films of Ingmar Bergman. This is probably the only family film you'll ever see with subtitled pidgin-Swedish pondering "the existential conundrum" of the human condition. Or the puppet condition. Something.

The movie then meta-morphizes (so to speak) to become both a continental caper and a prison movie—hey, if one genre's good, two's even better. Both begin with Kermit (Muppeteer Steve Whitmire) reluctantly acceding to his fellow Muppets' request to have Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) represent them as management. Meanwhile, in a Siberian gulag—and you have to love a kids' film with a Siberian gulag—Kermit lookalike Constantine, "the world's most dangerous frog," breaks free. And once his henchman Badguy has taken the troupe by train to Europe (don't ask) for a series of sold-out shows, Constantine slaps a cosmetic mole on Kermit's face, leading to Kermit's arrest and extradition to Russia. This being the Muppets, Kermit should be thankful he wasn't slapped with an actual mole.

Constantine, with a bit of green makeup, takes Kermie's place, as he and Badguy use the Muppets as cover for their National Treasure hunt through Berlin, Madrid and Dublin on their way to the biggest heist of all time. Meanwhile, the unaware Muppets do a stage version of their old TV show. Without the real Kermit, however, things don't go so well—especially for poor Salma Hayek and Tom "The Great Escapo" Hiddleston. Law enforcement eventually realizes the tour is somehow related to museum and bank thefts, and soon Interpol's Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and the CIA's Sam the Eagle (Muppeteer Eric Jacobson) are on the Muppets' trail.

Imprisoned in Siberia, Kermit despairs of his friends ever finding him. Under the watchful eye of head guard Nadya (Tina Fey), he resigns himself to his fate—which includes being ordered to use his “Muppet Show” experience to take over the annual prison stage revue. You haven't lived until you've see A Chorus Line's "I Hope I Get It" performed by prisoners including Ray Liotta, Jemaine Clement, little-person pro wrestler Hornswoggle and Danny Trejo as, apparently, himself—a conceit that provides what might be the film's single funniest line.

As in the previous movie, copious cameos cavort, from the momentary (Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Stanley Tucci, Chloë Grace Moretz and others), to performing bits (how I've longed to see Christoph Waltz dance the waltz) to full, single-scene characters (Frank Langella as a minister). Others of the roughly two-dozen include Miranda Richardson, Sean Combs (as Diddy is credited), Usher, Celine Dion and, of course, Zach Galifianakis reprising the previous film's Hobo Joe.

As great fun as it is, Burrell's exaggerated French is no Peter Sellers Clouseau, and the songs, I'm afraid, didn't do anything for me. I know we can't necessarily expect another "Rainbow Connection," but maybe another "Let It Go" or "For the First Time in Forever" wouldn't be too much to ask? Just sayin’—they do have people at Disney doing those kinds of songs…

Bundled with the film is a terrific little Pixar short, "Party Central," written and directed by Kelsey Mann, in which Monsters University freshmen Sulley and Mike (voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal) make unauthorized use of door technology to help the Oozma Kappas throw a proper bash. And may I say to Kelsey, yes, that pizza trick would definitely work on me.