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.
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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.
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I really can’t help but wonder what the audition process was like for this season’s contestants. Do you think they just blindfolded and spun the casting folks around, and sent them out into the wild? And from there, do you think they just picked the first dillweeds they found? Do you think finding this many terrible dudes requires some sort of skill set? I’m not wholly convinced I couldn’t do this job from a seat at a Starbucks in Hollywood on a Tuesday. I’m just saying that it’s really not hard to tell by looking at a guy that they have a very thick neck — which is clearly the only requirement to be on this show.
Jokes! I’m kidding. I’m sure it is really exhausting to listen to a bunch of dudes talk about how they don’t want to be famous and how hard their gym routines are; I really don’t envy those casting folks’ job.
Anyway! We’ve returned to the enchanted world of Emily the Bravest — dutifully searching for love on yet another a television show, because finding love is not something that you can do without a camera crew following your every move. Natch.
So who will have the first one-on-one date? The dudes are all atwitter, imagining boning telling Emily all about their busy days and rubbing her feet while she sings a lullaby to Ricki. Ryan nabs the first date, and has more words from his pastor to guide him. Does everyone else get the heebies from this guy, or is it just because I’m a total jerk?
Ryan and Emily are off to their date. Emily is worried about how attractive Ryan is, because that’s a normal concern most people are faced with on a daily basis. Man, my date is TOO attractive! Life is hard. Ryan is already picturing their wedding because that’s totally what dudes usually do during their first dates, right? Right!
And what will this date be? A ride on an octopus while it spews fireworks from its tentacles? A plane ride around the world in 47 seconds while being serenaded by En Vogue?
Nope! Ryan is playing sous chef to The Snack Mom for the soccer team! Time to bake some cookies and pretend you’re totally not disappointed by the lack of glitz and excitement, Ryan. They make cookies and Emily eats some cookie dough because she’s just like us, you guys!
Now it’s time to deliver the treats. But will Ryan meet Princess Ricki? No no, for Emily is a protective mama hen — so protective of her daughter that she won’t introduce her to a random dude, but will have her videotaped and exploited on TV to millions of people. My dad died and my mom made out with a bunch of dudes on a reality TV show. Start lining up now, therapists of America — welcome to your jackpot!
On the dinner portion of their date/world’s saddest tourist advertisement for Charlotte, N.C., Emily is not afraid to ask the tough questions over dinner. Ms. Maynard wants to know what Ryan expects to do after the chase is over, after he’s “won” the girl. Because Emily isn’t a prize, guys. Only she, like, is? Like, really? Because it’s a competition show to win her heart? Wait, Harrison, can you re-explain this show to her please?
In any event, Ryan gets the rose and then they started talking Southern and completely lost me. Can someone translate?
Oh yeah, some band whose label paid a lot of money for this appearance played and Emily pretended that she really loved them. Nothing is more romantic than standing on a pedestal dancing to a band with 1,000 other people taking pictures of you. This is how love is found and made to last, you guys.
NEXT: The Rainbow ConnectionA bunch of dudes, including arch nemesis/stock characters MC D-Bag and Kalon, all learn they will be on the group date. Kalon — SHOCKINGLY ENOUGH — is totally comfortable on stage. Gee willikers no one saw that one coming!
Full disclosure: I have Kindergartener-levels of excitement for anything involving The Muppets because I am truly eight years old. Also, Miss Piggy is my spirit animal, even though I think this is a terrible phrase used by terrible people, but it also feels apt. Piggy is fierce as hell and no one should try and step to her. When I grow up I will be a combination of Miss Piggy, Dolly Parton, and Liza Minnelli — all while looking like Christina Hendricks. I’m a simple girl with simple goals.
Some dudes have to sing, some have to dance, and the third group is performing a comedy act. Because dudes making jokes always works out really well on this show!
Charlie looks like he’s going to vomit all over the floor. Oh, Charlie! I am sort of rooting for him in spite of his sob story — which, I know, may read as counterintuitive to most viewers. But, see, I’m a jerk and usually a sob story just makes me roll my eyes because I am cruel and heartless. But Charlie seems like he means well (even though he rallies the mean girls later in the episode to make fun of MC D-Bag, which I also can’t totally fault them for). He has a speech problem from his accident and he doesn’t think he can do the comedy bit because he is like a damaged flower. I love damaged flowers.
So here we are at the weird performance that is making The Muppets sad to me, which should actually require some sort of hail time for the producers of this show. MC D-Bag is, of course, so into it. The skill level of these dudes (and Emily, if we’re being honest) isn’t even community theater-worthy. Though Chris Harrison standing in for Waldorf with Statler was oddly fantastic.
Oh, Emily also performs "The Rainbow Connection" with Ricki because she likes to shield her daughter, you know. Also, let’s just have a moment for how fabulous Miss Piggy is, okay? She was (deservedly) the highlight of this segment to the surprise of no one.
Next up is the cocktail party. Gerard Butler’s Stand-In (a.k.a. Chris) is flattered by Emily calling him hot. Their connection is ~so real~ you guys.
Emily is mad that Jef is playing hard to get or isn’t paying enough attention to her. That’s because he’s too busy enjoying the candle ambiance/fire hazard that’s going on around him. I’m honestly surprised that Emily is into our token hipster, Jef. They talked about being awkward and apparently Jef thought that was the best thing ever. Somehow he manages the rose on this date? I’m still sort of scratching my head here. I’m not saying Jef is a terrible person (even though his name is clearly the worst), but these two just do not seem like a match. Gerard Butler’s Stand-In has done some hardcore analyzing on everyone’s interactions with Emily and deduced that Jef definitely didn’t deserve the rose tonight.
Also, can we just have a moment for Stevie? Sorry, I meant MC D-Bag. I just really dislike him. It is like 90 percent misplaced hatred, but it’s also pretty warranted in its own right. He’s dancing with her and smiling like he has that Majoria Dushebagia Syndrome I’ve heard so much about. All the other dudes are making fun of him because he’s the worst, and go into weird tween mean girl mode. Kalon decides its GAME TIME (because the producers told him to, because they like to stoke the good fires) and cuts in, infuriating our fair MC. (Also, can we have a moment for the eye daggers Kalon throws at Aaron when Aaron takes over? So sleazy. Kalon gets all butthurt about it and complains to the other dudes, because they care. No they don’t.) They don’t like each other, and it’s just so shocking, you know?
NEXT: Rolling in the briar patchJoe is off to his one-on-one with Emily, and you know when Ryan hears there was a private jet involved, he’s going to be really TO’d. The downside, is, of course, that they have to use that private jet to go to West Virginia. But they’re heading to The Greenbriar, which is a fancypants resort Emily used to go to as a child.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the dudes talk about becoming a father to Ricki. It’s a big deal, bro. Kalon thinks Doug put being a dad on hold to be on a reality show and Doug bugs out. Whiiiiiich… I mean… I don’t want to side with Kalon on anything, ever, but he’s sort of right? Like, come on dude, being on a reality show to win a pretty girl’s heart for forever five minutes is not the same sort of commitment to your child that, say, staying at home with him and hopefully meeting a nice lady at the neighborhood bake sale is, ya dig?
Back to the briar patch — Joe wants to be happy. He’s ready to move wherever Emily wants to. Emily wants to know what that means and if it means more babies for her, because OMG BABIES! Chris Harrison’s words rattle within her brain, so she refrains from unleashing the full terror of her baby obsession.
Emily doesn’t feel butterflies and in a last-ditch effort, uses The Love Clock to see if her relationship with Joe will “stand the test of time.” This is actually an enchanted clock that Emily cast a spell over. It might also be a horcrux. By placing his dedication to love in the clock, Emily sees her future, and does not include Joe. BANISH YOURSELF, Joe!
Emily starts crying (contractually obligated) because she didn’t see herself in Joe’s life. I really have no idea what she means by that since Joe kept saying that he wanted his life to be whatever she wanted. I think he was just too nice and she didn’t want to bone him. And a bunch of fireworks go off as he is rolled away! Insult, meet injury.
Arie is first to grab her at the cocktail party and I don’t even recognize his face; is that just me? He seems super endearing and normal though. I dig him.
Tony is still bugging because the only thing he’s done for the past two hours is freak out and not spoken to Emily, so he is off to interrupt Ryan’s time with Ms. Maynard. However, Ryan had just given Emily a letter that she reads aloud. Forever. Tony just stands there, awkwardly. Oh so awkwardly.
It should be noted that Kalon is sad that being an a**hole has made him look like a a**hole on national television. Boo-hoo!
Emily wants to know why Kalon hates women. Whoops — does he hate women? He doesn’t hate women; he just thinks all 26-year-olds are basically giant balls of idiot powder, dipped in lip-gloss. He feels mentally refreshed by using all of his SAT vocab words.
Now we have to send two dudes home! So many decisions to be made! Sorry, teacher with the weird hipster glasses (Aaron) and Sad Ed Norton (Kyle). Long Beach has left Charlotte.
And that’s all there is, folks! Now the only questions we have left are: who do you think will win in a fight — MC D-Bag or Kalon? When will we see Ricki’s tell-all optioned? Can the necks on this show possibly get any bigger? Tune in next week!
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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