I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
S1E4: Tonight's episode of Charlie's Angels featured what seems to be a recurring theme on the show: exes. It also shed some light on Bosley's relationship with Charlie's daughter, Elizabeth, whom Bosley was unable to save. It still haunts him. This episode was actually all about Bosley, but I digress ...
The Angels' mission: Go down to Cuba to find and rescue a girl named Tess Walters. Of course, getting into and going to Cuba isn't an easy feat these days, and it doesn't take long for the Angels to experience some resistance.
They almost immediately find their way into a ladies' prison, and they almost immediately get (purposely) sent "the hole," where a weary, defeated-looking Tess has been holed up for God-knows-how-long. Luckily, Bosley -- who is working together with his ex, a CIA agent named Samantha Masters -- has a plan to bust them out. Unluckily, however, just as they are all about to put that plan into action, the operation is sabotaged by the American-hating prison warden (guest star Elizabeth Pena).
That's also when we meet Jonathan Cartwright, a clearly no-good American businessman who has not-so-savory plans for some of the female prisoners, like prostitution. The Angels go along with it, relying on Bosley to quickly change his plans for their escape. To no one's surprise -- except for maybe the unsuspecting "Johns" -- Bosley's plan works, at least somewhat: Eve initially, and quite unselfishly, offers to become Cartwright's hostage in order for Tess to go free.
Of course, that doesn't sit well with Bosley and the other Angels, and they demand Cartwright return Eve. He acquiesces, under the condition that they trade Samantha for Eve.At Samantha's insistence, they relent, but ultimately -- with help from guns and that prison warden, who changes teams -- Samantha returns in one piece, with Cartwright handcuffed to boot. And the Angels win again!
BEST ANGEL MOMENTS
Abbie: When the Angels find themselves in prison and she's locked in her own cell, Abbie using some sort of sewing she had hidden in her shoe to unlock her cell door. When a suspicious guard comes over to investigate the racket, she swings the door open ... into his face! Bonus: She then locks him in HER cell.
Eve and Kate: Upon being arrested and placed in prison, these two start a brawl in the commissary, on purpose -- so that they'll be taken to the hole and find Tess. They probably didn't plan, however, on engaging the biggest, baddest woman in the whole prison to get there!
Green Zone is a story we’ve already heard shot in a manner we’ve already seen and starring Matt Damon in a role he’s already played. Remember those WMDs that were never found in Iraq and later exposed to be the invention of a dubious and poorly-vetted informant? Remember the misguided and hideously botched attempt at establishing democracy after the fall of Saddam and the violent prolonged insurgency that ensued? If you’ve been away from the television for the past hour and somehow managed to forget any of these details Green Zone is here to remind you.
Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller an Army weapons inspector whose frustration over repeatedly coming up empty in his search for Iraqi WMDs leads him on a quest to track down and expose the people responsible for leading him (and us) down that infamously bogus path. Though his hand-to-hand skills are a notch below Jason Bourne’s Miller’s single-mindedness moral certainty and permanent expression of square-jawed defiance — always threatening another “How do you like them apples?” rebuke — in the face of an insidious multi-level government conspiracy are essentially equivalent to those of Damon’s Bourne trilogy soulmate.
And like Bourne his most dangerous adversary isn’t found on the battlefront but rather within the government he once served so proudly. As Miller delves ever deeper into the Case of the Faulty WMD Intelligence Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) the duplicitous arrogant Defense Department bureaucrat in charge of U.S. operations in Iraq summarily relieves him of his post. (Hint: the better dressed a Green Zone character is the more sinister his ambitions.) But Miller remains undeterred and he goes rogue to locate the CIA informant “Magellan ” a formerly high-ranking Iraqi official whose supposed confirmation of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions served as the basis for U.S. invasion.
We know how the story ends. Green Zone’s pervasive overarching sense of deja vu is accentuated by director — and veteran Bourne helmer — Paul Greengrass who employs the trademark hand-held super-shakycam style which was so fresh and inventive in 2004 but now feels stale and predictable. (Admittedly my aversion to Greengrass’ approach was no doubt heightened by a previous night’s viewing of Roman Polanski’s excellent The Ghost Writer a political thriller as subtle and precise and finely tuned as Green Zone is ham-fisted and haphazard — and which also uses the phantom WMD controversy to far greater narrative effect.)
Green Zone culminates in essentially a violent footrace between Miller and the Army Special Forces as they scour a heavily-armed insurgent stronghold to find Magellan with Miller hoping to secure his potentially damning testimony before the Army can silence him for good. The climactic sequence for all I could tell was either shot in Damon’s backyard culled from Bourne trilogy deleted scenes or assembled from scattered YouTube clips. This punishingly chaotic often incoherent and ultimately exhausting approach to storytelling isn’t cinema verite; it’s dementia pugilistica.
“Story” is a pejorative term when applied to The Comebacks. The entire concept of the film is basically an excuse to string together and spoof famous scenes from a variety of sports movies including Field of Dreams Bend It Like Beckham Seabiscuit Remember the Titans Rudy Invincible Stick It Drumline et al. David Koechner stars as Lambeau Fields the worst coach in the history of sports who takes one more stab at gridiron glory when he agrees to coach Heartland State University’s luckless football squad. Needless to say this assemblage of losers misfits and malcontents is turned into a winning team under Coach’s somewhat unorthodox tutelage. Unlike most coaches Fields encourages his players to cut class take drugs drink to excess and behave as badly as he does. It all culminates in the championship game (“The Toilet Bowl”) between Coach Fields’ Comebacks and the mighty Invincibles coached by Fields’ one-time friend-turned-rival Freddie Wiseman (Carl Weathers). Despite being down 35-0 at halftime the Comebacks...well you can guess the rest. The collective enthusiasm of the cast goes a long way toward keeping The Comebacks watchable. Koechner enjoying his first big-screen lead has a likable lunk-headed quality that makes Coach Fields an endearing idiot. Melora Hardin scores too as his neglected wife and Brooke Nevin is a looker as their rebellious teenage daughter who also happens to be a gymnastics wiz (Stick It anyone?). Weathers a one-time pro-football player before stardom (in Rocky beckoned) has a good time playing the duplicitous Coach Wiseman and some of the more memorable members of the Comebacks include Matthew Lawrence Jackie Long Noureen DeWulf and Robert Ri’chard. A lot of familiar faces turn up in cameo roles: Will Arnett Dax Shepard Jonathan Gries Kerri Kenney Jillian Grace Eric Christian Olsen Stacy Kiebler Frank Caliendo (doing his impressions of John Madden and Al Michaels) and Andy Dick whose role as the referee during the climactic football game isn’t big enough for him to be as truly annoying as he can be. (That’s a good thing.) Not surprisingly a number of real-life sports personalities turn up in cameos as well: Dennis Rodman (as a prison warden no less!) Michael Irvin Eric Dickerson Lawrence Taylor John Salley Chris Rose and Bill Buckner (reprising his infamous error from the 1986 World Series). Director Tom Brady not to be mistaken for the New England Patriots quarterback previously directed the 2002 Rob Schneider vehicle The Hot Chick. This is unquestionably an improvement. The Comebacks may be dumb--intentionally so--but it’s never dull. There are a good number of groans along with laughs but the film never really runs out of steam. The football scenes are surprisingly well-rendered and are realistic enough that they could easily have come from a straightforward football movie--without the punch lines of course. There’s a pretty even ratio between the gags that work and the ones that don’t and the film’s formula seems to be: When all else fails hit below the belt with repeated crotch jokes. Those looking for a sophisticated highbrow comedy should look elsewhere.