Writers James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller can’t be blamed for the unfortunate timing of their follow-up to 2011’s The Muppets, though they might be cursing their luck. This sequel’s villains include a troop of comically-evil Russian soldiers who run a Siberian Gulag with iron discipline whilst retaining a love of the most fabulous musical theatre and, although recent events may have taken the gloss of this particular script choice, the duo can’t reasonably be held accountable in that regard. The overall lethargy upon which this globe-trotting holiday-cum-crime spree script creaks is more of a cause for complaint. When lacking any real inspiration, and in need of a quick sequel, just send your characters on holiday. Hey, it worked for Victor Meldrew, The Rugrats and the cast of Are You Being Served?
The Muppets, back together and no longer an anachronism in the digital age, are looking to capitalise on the success of their last movie. An execrably lazy, or profoundly clever piece of self-reflexivity depending on how kind your feeling, sees the gang literally begin the film by telling the audience that they need to get a another movie in the can, and fast, lest the rediscovered appreciation of the all-singing, all-dancing, all-felt troupe diminish.
And so The Muppets enlist the services of Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), a showbiz agent who takes them on a world tour to promote their act, hone their routines and capitalise on their popularity. Dominic, it turns out, is in fact the world’s second-best thief (who would’ve guessed), who helps install Constantine, the world’s best thief and Kermit the Frog doppelganger, as head of the show as they romp across Europe pilfering from museums with an ultimate goal of half-inching the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Kermit, meanwhile, is mistaken for said criminal mastermind and packed off to Tina Fey’s prison camp to spend the remainder of his life, or the movie at least, serenading his fellow inmates with end-of-the-pier style revue.
The set-up feels like an idle means to dump the Muppets into a succession of countries and wiggle a whole load of guest stars in front of your eyes whilst employing the bare minimum in terms of narrative. It’s very much a film in which we wander from one show to the next with some vague, insubstantial finale in sight. That it’s The Muppets taking you along for the ride and not some other, substandard rabble of noisy idiots just about preserves enough goodwill to see you through.
Gervais takes to his role as an evil, yet under appreciated genius like a cat to water; honking and jigging through his one musical number in a way which makes you seriously suspect his heart’s not in it. Ty Burrell’s obvious charm and likability can’t disguise the fact he’s been lumbered with a sub-Clouseau, French Interpol agent consisting of one joke repeated ad infinitum. Meanwhile Tina Fey’s prison guard harbours a deep and unrequited love for Kermit which is really never reciprocated by the audience. You feel for them in a way, very much playing second fiddle to the Muppets, given precious little to work with.
Strange too to hear Bret McKenzie’s usually faultless mix of good natured surrealist humour and charm fall somewhat flat. A telltale sign of a good great musical is the impossibly catchy earworm that bores its way into your psyche to keep you humming and your friends exasperated. I can’t recall a single line.
And yet with the evergreen support of the frog, the pig and the blue thing, it never sinks without trace. It’s eminently watchable and altogether quite amusing in short bursts. How much of that is down to your own willingness to see so many telly favourites succeed is difficult to say.
Crime, Adventure, Comedy
28th March 2014 (UK)
Kermit, Miss Piggy, Ricky Gervais,Ty Burell, Tina Fey, Walter