Monday, March 24, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (B. Tallarico) review
AVClub (E. Adams) review

Probably the single most important thing that one should remember about Muppets Most Wanted [2014] (directed and cowritten by James Bobin along with Nicholas Stroller characters by Muppets creator Jim Hensen [IMDb]) is that like its immediate predecessor, The Muppets [2011] reboot, the film is "just a dumb Muppets movie," :-) and hence not altogether "politically correct."

So if in the last movie, the villain was an "Oil Baron" bent on buying the Muppets Theater in order to destroying it so that he could drill for oil there, in this case the villains are a French crook literally named "Badguy" (played very well by Ricky Gervais) -- who tells the "taken aback" Muppets that his name's pronounced "Badghee" :-) to which the muppets all nod still with incomprehension but, not wanting to "look stupid," approval saying "ooooooh..." -- and a Russian "Kermit the Frog" look-alike named Constantine (voiced by Matt Vogel) with the reputation of being "the world's most dangerous frog."  Add to this the "Gulag Master" Nadya (played by a "Russian accented" Tina Fey, she's actually quite funny :-)) and an ""super-lazy, ever on break" French Interpol agent named Jean Pierre Napoleon (played by Ty Burrell)...

So this is not exactly "America at its Best." In fact, it would be _just perfect_ for some upcoming Putin-sponsored Moscow State U. "See how they hate us..." film seminar.  And I honestly don't know the film could be marketed in France except under the title "Les Americains sont les houls" :-).  But to be fair, it's hard to imagine the previous Muppets movie being particularly popular in the Dick Cheney household: "Come kids, come see how Evil your Grandpa is ..."

Other countries -- the Italians for instance -- are able to make very good comedies and very good children's films without requiring there to be _any_ "villains" to ridicule or tar-and-feather.  But we still have to "drop safes" on them ... ;-).  But there we are ...

Okay, what's then the set-up for this "kids lets learn to hate each other" story ...?

Well it begins quite literally the moment after the last film ends.  The Muppets have saved their theater.  They've finished their last song and ... as the Muppets (and children often) are ... immediately, they're asking: "What now?"

That's when M. Badguy comes in ... and offers to take them on a "European tour."  Kermit (voiced by Steve Whitmire) would prefer to wait, reflect on it a bit.  But even the rest of the Muppets realize that "A Sequel's Never as Good as the First Film" (one of the funniest songs that they sing in the course of the film) ... the alternative is ... EEEK ... BOREDOM, which most of the Muppets (like most kids) find worse than just about anything.  SO ... after M. Badguy suggests they put it up for a vote, most of the Muppets vote for "a bad idea" to "no idea at all." ;-)  And so they're off ... to Europe ... with no idea really what they're gonna do there (they have no show prepared) BUT ... "it's better than doing nothing at all ..." ;-)

Enter then the Russian fiend Constantine, "the world's most dangerous frog," who turns out to be a friend and partner of the French M. Badguy.  Constantine breaks out of a Siberian prison and ... soon finds himself (somehow) in Europe where, since he looks _almost exactly like_ Kermit the Frog, he manages to do with the switcheroo with Kermit and fool most of the Muppets into believing that he's him, while Kermit gets arrested by Interpol and sent back down to the Russian Gulag as Constantine.

So how could the other Muppets be so stupid?  How could they not recognize that "Kermit's not quite the same" (actually it must have been fun for an American voice artist to play a Russian trying to quickly learn an American accent ;-).   Well, Russian-accented, trying to quickly learn an American accent, Constantine (unlike the more responsible Kermit) lets the childish Muppets "do what they want."

The rest of the Muppets JUST LOVE THIS, but "childish" as they are ... they have some really stupid ideas ;-) :

One of them has always dreamed of staging an "Indoor Running of the Bulls..." ;-) ... Poor, poor. poor Salma Hayek, who comes out ALL DRESSED IN RED, when this Muppet gets his dream fulfilled by the evilly permissive Constantine while they're in Madrid ...  ;-)

Then Miss Piggy wants to sing her renditions of 5-6 Celine Dion songs at every show ... Eeek!  Talk about a "Crime against Humanity!" ;-)  Indeed talk about a "Crime against Celine Dion" ;-)

The Muppets band's drummer wants to fulfill his dream of banging out a 2-3 hour drum solo at one of the shows ... ;-)

You get the picture... ;-)

The ideas are all "stupid" but so long as Constantine lets them "do what they want" NONE of the Muppets "asks any questions"  (And that's why kids we need a "wise-but-firm" benevolent SEIG HEIL FUHRER ... to keep us all in line ;-).  Peter Sellers' Dr. Wirklichlieber (err... Dr. Strangelove) couldn't have put the message more clearly.   And Putin (and Dick Cheney...?) actually would probably agree... ;-)

Sigh ... meanwhile our wise and responsible Kermit languishes in a Siberian Gulag.  Well, Gulag commander Nadya (knowing actually who he is, but for her own reasons wanting to keep him there) decides to try to make Kermit "feel better" by allowing him to organize the annual "Gulag Talent Show!" ;-)  This actually produces some of the funniest scenes in the movie as Kermit organizes the inmates, played by some of the toughest looking mugs in Hollywood, among them Ray Liotta and Danny "The Machete" Trejo, singing and dancing selections out of Fame [IMDb] and A Chorus Line [IMDb] ;-).

Back to The Muppets European Tour:  A strange thing about the venues.  It seems that M. Badguy and Muppets leader Constantine, er "Kermit-the-Frog with a persistent Cold," seem to always stage their shows RIGHT NEXT TO RENOWNED ART MUSEUMS and while the Muppets are doing some REALLY REALLY STUPID THINGS (but also REALLY REALLY FUNNY THINGS... again that "Indoor Running of the Bulls" / the "2 hour drum solo..." / Miss Piggy singing the "Theme From the Titanic", etc ;-) ON STAGE ... something, often VERY ODD (they're Muppets villains after all ;-) "goes missing" from said Museums.

SO ... both the CIA (represented by an eminently "wise" / "reasonable" and "don't you just love him (I suppose when he's not water-boarding anyone ...)" fuzzy Muppet Eagle (voiced by Eric Jacobson)) and Interpol (represented by the really, really by-the-book and the book says: "it's time to take my break", "time to call it a day", "time to take my wife and kids on our state mandated 8 week vacation" ... LAZY above mentioned Interpol Agent (played by Ty Burrell)) get on the case.

Much then ensues...

A lot of the gags are _really_ really funny.   It's just that the jokes are all done at the expense of Others.  And yet, at the end the message is:  "Kids we need wise, responsible people to do the thinking for us," a philosophy that a lot of those "Evil Others" would actually very much agree with.

But "Rock On," drum soloing Crazy Harry, "Rock On ..."

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