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
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Top Story: Winslet and Mendes Expecting Child
Titanic star Kate Winslet and her new husband, American Beauty director Sam Mendes, are expecting their first baby, due in January, The Associated Press reports. "They are both delighted with the pregnancy," Chloe Dunbar of Premiere PR in London, which represents Mendes, told AP. The two were married in May, and Dunbar said they were currently on vacation in Italy. Winslet has a 3-year-old daughter Mia from her previous marriage to director Jim Threapleton.
Schwarzenegger Calls for Tougher Piracy Laws
In Mexico promoting his new actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Arnold Schwarzenegger stressed the need for stronger laws against film and music piracy after being handed a bootleg copy of T3, Reuters reports. "We need stricter laws so that the people who do this (piracy) are treated the same way as somebody who steals something," Schwarzenegger said Thursday at the press conference. The actor, who is considering running for governor of California, should make this his first order of business if elected.
West Wing Returns With New Writing Staff
NBC's political drama The West Wing will return for a fifth season with a new commander-in-chief: John Wells, who is replacing series creator Aaron Sorkin, Reuters reports. With a brand-new writing staff, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker promised Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour that the transition would be seamless, with viewers noticing little difference in the show except for perhaps less of the dialogue "banter" that was a hallmark of Sorkin's writing style.
Osbourne Tour Manager Dies
Bobby Thomson, Ozzy Osbourne's longtime Ozzfest tour manager, died in his sleep Thursday night in Birmingham, Michigan, after battling throat cancer, LAUNCHMusic.com reports. He was 50. Osbourne issued a statement saying, "We are devastated by the loss of our dear friend Bobby. He has been a part of our family for 23 years and loved very much. He will be greatly missed by all of us. Our sincerest sympathies go out to the Thomson family."
J. Lo Postpones Tour, Launches New Fragrance
If you're waiting to see Jennifer Lopez in concert, you're going to have to wait a little longer. The pop singer/actress has decided not to go on tour with her latest album This is Me…Then but will wait until her next release, MTV.com reports. "The [question] was like, 'Do we go out now when we're on the, like, third and fourth single of this album?' 'Cause really, you go out at the beginning of an album," Lopez told MTV. "And [so] that's what we're gonna do. I'm gonna work on something else, and when that comes out I think I'm gonna go out right away." Instead of touring, Lopez is releasing a second fragrance, called Still, in October to go along with the first, Glow, MTV.com reports. The ad campaign is planned for a more upscale market and will feature the slogan, "In the eye of the storm, I am still Jennifer Lopez."
Role Call: Newell Considering Fourth Potter, Gyllenhaal Needs Proof
Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is looking to team up with Warner Bros. to direct the fourth Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He'll be the first British director to tackle the hugely popular J.K. Rowling books, following Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets and Alfonso Cuaron, currently filming the third in the series Prisoner of Azkaban…Jake Gyllenhaal is in negotiations to join Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof for Miramax Films. According to The Reporter, the story, based on David Auburn's Pulitzer-prized play, centers on a young woman (Paltrow) taking care of her dying father, a brilliant but insane math professor. Gyllenhaal will play Hal, the young woman's love interest.