Movie review: “Muppets Most Wanted” misfires miserably

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From the March 20, 2014 edition

I was more lukewarm with the 2011 return of The Muppets to the silver screen than most audiences, feeling a little disappointed by how hard it tried to be both nostalgic and play to kids.

If I thought “The Muppets” wasn’t as good as it could/should have been, the sequel took everything wrong and made it bigger and worse. I can’t contain my disappointment.

The plot is ponderous and overloaded, with a running time pushing a not-very-kid-friendly two hours (a punchy 90 minutes would be ideal). And, despite some deeply funny additions to the cast, the comedic material misses more than it hits.

Opening immediately after the musical finality of the first film — and with body doubles standing in for a missing Amy Adams and Jason Segal — we are immediately treated to a musical number about sequels, complete with a line about how they’re never quite as good. Chalk that up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A new agent named Dominic Badguy (pronounced “bad-gee” and played by Ricky Gervais) convinces Kermit and the gang to take their act on a world tour.

As the Muppets head to Europe, we find that Dominic has other, more sinister plans. He’s working for a supervillain named Constantine, one who conveniently looks exactly like Kermit the Frog with a mole on his cheek. Dominic choreographs a switch that lands Constantine with the unsuspecting Muppets and makes Kermit the most wanted frog in Europe.

Director James Bobin directed two great HBO comedy series (“Flight of the Concords” and “Da Ali G Show”), but he again has trouble with maintaining the flow of a feature film.

Gervais is one of the funniest men alive, right? Not with this material. Tina Fey plays a Russian Gulag boss for limited laughs, and Ty Burrell (TV’s “Modern Family”) creates a French investigator from a handful of leftover Pink Panther bits.

Generally, “Muppets Most Wanted” gets too caught up in its heist plot (and too many subplots) and is too busy to give anything meaningful to many beloved Muppet characters. I won’t quite say this will make Jim Henson turn over in his grave, but it definitely makes me sad.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures