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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Top Story: Readers Angry Over L.A. Times' Schwarzenegger Coverage
About 1,000 readers have canceled their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times to protest the paper's coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger 's alleged sexual harassment of women, Reuters reports. Readers have complained that the paper singled out Schwarzenegger for critical coverage because of a liberal bias or ran its stories too close to Tuesday's vote. The Times has detailed allegations by 15 women in three front-page stories against the actor since Thursday. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has both apologized and denied the sexual misconduct allegations while accusing The Times of working with incumbent Gov. Gray Davis in a campaign of "puke politics" aimed at derailing his candidacy.
Diana Ross's Trial Postponed
Diana Ross's drunk driving trial has been moved to January 14. According to The Associated Press, the trial had originally been set for Sept. 9 and then Dec. 9, but the later date was a court calendar mistake since the Tucson, Ariz., city court isn't holding trials that week. The 59-year-old singer was arrested last December in Tuscon after a woman reported seeing a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Police said Ross had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20 percent. Ross, who has pleaded innocent to three drunk driving related charges, could receive jail time and a fine if convicted.
Kilmer's Comments Anger N.M. Lawmaker
Wonderland star Val Kilmer, who has a ranch in the mountains south of Pecos, New Mexico, isn't making any friends in the state senate. In an interview published in a recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine, Kilmer said he carries a gun in his car. "I live in the homicide capital of the Southwest," Kilmer told the magazine. "Eighty percent of the people in my county are drunk. So driving home on the highway, especially with kids, it's just a precaution." State Sen. Phil Griego, whose district includes San Miguel County where Kilmer's ranch is, said Friday if the actor doesn't like it he's welcome to leave. "I don't believe for a minute he meant any of it," said John Hendry of the state tourism department to the AP. "I know him and I have a feeling that you had to be there [to understand Kilmer's perhaps sardonic intent]."
Reese Witherspoon's Brother Placed on Probation
Reese Witherspoon's 30-year-old brother has been placed on two years' probation after pleading guilty to trespassing and attempted sexual battery, the AP reports. John Draper Witherspoon was arrested Oct. 5, 2002, after he entered an unlocked door at a neighbor's home and attempted to undress a woman while she slept. The woman said Witherspoon kissed her on the neck and face, but that he left after she woke up. Witherspoon's attorney, Ed Yarbrough, said his client doesn't dispute the woman's account, but was drunk at the time and doesn't recall what he did. Witherspoon attends weekly meetings at Nashville's Vanderbilt Institute for the Treatment of Addiction and will attend for at least two years as part of the plea bargain.
Last New 8 Simple Rules Airs Tuesday
ABC will air Tuesday the last of three new episodes of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter filmed by star John Ritter before his death. According to the AP, the show will then go into repeats for a few weeks, then return with Ritter's character having recently died. 8 Simple Rules... airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Rob Lowe Talks About West Wing Departure
Rob Lowe tells TV Guide in its Oct. 11 issue that he quit The West Wing because he felt slighted by show creator Aaron Sorkin over the size of his role and the money he was making. Lowe made $70,000 an episode while co-star Martin Sheen got a raise to $300,000 a show. "Why didn't (Sorkin) know how much I loved him, how much I loved that show?" Lowe said. Lowe, who now stars and is executive producer of NBC's new legal drama The Lyon's Den, also recalls a meeting at which producers reprimanded him for an attendance record that showed he'd been late a total of 17 hours. "I was spied on. No other cast member had a meeting like that," Lowe said.
Fox Searchlight To Hold Special Screenings
Fox Searchlight Pictures, the specialty arm of 20th Century Fox, will hold special theater screenings of In America as an answer to a recent ban placed on Oscars hopeful screeners, Reuters reports. Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America instituted a ban on sending DVDs of movies vying for the Oscars to Academy Award voters. In America, about an Irish immigrant family in New York, will begin playing in four theaters in Los Angeles starting Oct. 9. The theaters will be open to the public at regular ticket prices but free for Oscar voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Fox Searchlight said in a statement the special screenings will continue until the film debuts nationally Nov. 26.
Rings Fans Line Up for World Premiere
The Lord of the Rings fans are lining up to buy a seat in a Wellington, New Zealand, movie theater where the world premiere of the trilogy's final installment, The Return of the King, will be screened in December. New Line Cinema said it would not return to the city's Embassy Theater for the final world premiere unless the 79-year-old theater was improved. According to BBC News, the Embassy Theater Trust decided to fund part of the refurbishment efforts by selling sponsored seats, giving sponsors the right to a name plaque on their seat. More than 80 percent of the 748 sponsored seats have already been snapped up, some for as much as $1,104. Sponsoring a seat, however, doesn't mean they get to sit in it for the premiere or even the first public screenings two weeks later. The Return of the King will be released worldwide release Dec. 17.