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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Musician Isaac Hayes has died. He was 65.
Hayes passed away on Sunday morning at a Memphis, Tennessee, hospital. The cause of death has yet to be confirmed.
According to reports, the songwriter was rushed to Baptist East Hospital after receiving a call from Hayes' wife who found him lying near a treadmill in their home.
Police at the Shelby County Sheriff's Office are investigating the star's death, but do not believe foul play was a factor.
Born in 1942 in Covington, Tennessee, Hayes was raised by his maternal grandparents, who moved the family to Memphis when he was six.
Hayes' early ambitions of becoming a doctor were redirected when he won a talent contest in ninth grade, singing Nat King Cole's "Looking Back."
A self-taught musician, he was hired in 1964 by Tennessee-based Stax Records as a backup pianist, working as a session musician for music greats including Otis Redding. He then paved his way to stardom with the release of his album Hot Buttered Soul in 1969.
The soul singer then broke out with a No. 1 hit with the 1971 Grammy Award-winning "Theme from Shaft," from the iconic movie starring actor Richard Roundtree.
Hayes' chart-topping singles also include "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man."
In the early 1970s, Hayes continued to forge a path for disco and urban-contemporary music, making way for legendary singers like Barry White.
In a 1999 interview reflecting on his career he said of his influence: "I knew nothing about the business, or trends and things like that. I think it was a matter of timing. I didn't know what was unfolding."
In addition to music, Hayes appeared in several movies, including It Could Happen to You with Nicolas Cage, Ninth Street with Martin Sheen, and Reindeer Games with starring Ben Affleck.
Hayes enjoyed success as a radio-show host in New York City from 1996 to 2002, and later in Memphis.
His distinctive voice can also be heard as part of Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" program and in scenes from his role as Chef during a stint on animated TV show South Park.
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