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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After last weekend's Super Bowl madness, audiences were in the mood for a different kind of game--be it mind games or the challenge of cheating death--as the top three box office spots were dominated by new releases.
The new spy drama The Recruit took top honors with a decent $16.5 million*, while second place holder Final Destination 2 nearly caught up to The Recruit with $16.2 million. The third spot belonged to Biker Boyz with a slim $10.1 million.
Pushed down to the number four and five spots were last weekend's winners Kangaroo Jack at $9 million and Darkness Falls with $7.5 million.
THE TOP TEN
This weekend's box office topper, Buena Vista's PG-13 The Recruit, opened with an ESTIMATED $16.5 million at 2,376 theaters ($6,944 per theater).
Directed by Roger Donaldson, it stars Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Bridget Moynahan and Gabriel Macht.
The film revolves around a brilliant college graduate (Farrell) who is recruited by a CIA veteran (Pacino), sent to The Farm--the Agency's treacherous, mind-boggling training program--and programmed to be one of the spy elite.
"Al Pacino always delivers a great performance, and when you put him with Colin Farrell, the combination just whetted the appetite of the public on all sides," Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, told the Associated Press.
Ever wonder how you could cheat death? New Line Cinema's R-rated Final Destination 2 gave us a few hints, as it opened at No. 2 with an ESTIMATED $16.2 million at 2,834 theaters ($5,716 per theater), just barely missing the top mark.
Directed by David R. Ellis, it stars A.J. Cook, Ali Larter and Michael Landes.
The sequel to the 2000 horror hit Final Destination further explores the possibility of escaping the vindictive Death, as a girl, with a premonition of a horrific car pileup on a highway, saves her friends from that particular fate, only to see them picked off one by one in other, more gruesome ways.
AP reports Final Destination 2 easily out-grossed its predecessor, which opened with $10 million. Russell Schwartz, president of domestic marketing for New Line, told AP he expects the sequel to at least match the $53 million total gross of the original Final Destination.
Coming in the third spot, DreamWorks' PG-13 Biker Boyz opened with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million at 1,766 theaters ($5,719 per theater).
Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood, it stars Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Kid Rock and Lisa Bonet.
The film follows the lives of lawyers and city workers who take to the streets by night in their leather gear to race in the world of underground motorcycle clubs.
Amazingly, Warner Bros. PG-rated Kangaroo Jack slipped only two notches to the No. 4 spot with an ESTIMATED $9 million (-22%) at 2,848 theaters ($3,172 per theater), even beating last weekend's top winner Darkness Falls. Its cume is approximately $45.8 million. Crikey!
Directed by David McNally, the silly comedy about a kangaroo who inadvertently makes off with some mob money into the wilds of the Australian Outback stars Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson and Estella Warren.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 Darkness Falls certainly toppled from its top perch to claim fifth place with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million (-38%) at 2,865 theaters (+28 theaters; $2,618 per theater). Its total haul is approximately $22.2 million.
Pic revolves around a young man who, having escaped the Tooth Fairy's unrelentingly evil clutches as a boy, must return to save his hometown from the curse which has plagued it. This weekend, however, cheating death is apparently more exciting than cheating the Tooth Fairy.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, it stars Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield and Lee Cormie.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' PG-13 Chicago lost a little of its jazz, dipping from third place to sixth with an ESTIMATED $7.1 million (-13%) at 623 theaters (+7 theaters; $11,461 per theater). Yet, if Miramax opens this musical extravaganza wide, you may see the Oscar-touted film shoot back up the charts. Chicago's cume is $50.7 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
The box office charts wouldn't be complete without a few Hobbits. New Line's PG-13 smash The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers still held power in its seventh week, slipping two spots to No. 7 with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-24%) at 2,175 theaters (-491 theaters; $2,299 per theater). But here's the real kicker--its total box office grosses to date is now approximately $315.9 million. Not too shabby.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 Just Married fell one spot to take eighth place with an ESTIMATED $4.9 million (-24%) at 2,408 theaters (-297 theaters; $2,035 per theater). The tale about a honeymoon from hell has gained a respectable $49.8 million so far.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy.
Ninth place belonged to DreamWorks PG-13 Catch Me If You Can with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-26%) at 2,316 theaters (-460 theaters; $2,073 per theater). Its cume is approximately $151.9 million.
The biopic about con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken.
New Line's R-rated About Schmidt dropped one spot to tenth, rounding out the list with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (-13%) at 1,236 theaters ($3,803 per theater). The classic slice of Americana has gathered a noteworthy $44.3 million to date with only limited release. Imagine what it could do if it goes wide.
Directed by Alexander Payne, it stars Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates.
Universal Pictures' R-rated The Guru opened in limited theaters with an ESTIMATED $648,000 at 62 theaters ($10,452 per theater).
The comedy is about an Indian man who comes to seek his fame and fortune in America but winds up becoming the next "It" guru, spouting sexual advice to New York's lonely elite. Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, the films stars Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham and Marisa Tomei.
Overall, the box office numbers for the top 12 films jumped 18 percent from last weekend's dismal $79.9 million, with a total haul of $94.6 million.
"This was a really strong weekend for a January, which is usually kind of slow," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AP. "To have two films over $16 million is not bad at all."
This weekend also saw a 20 percent increase from the same weekend last year, which took in only $78.5 million.
Last year, Sony's R-rated Black Hawk Down dominated the box office in its sixth week with $11.1 million at 3,143 theaters ($3,536 per theater); Buena Vistas' G-rated Snow Dogs was second in its third week of release with $10.1 million at 2,454 theaters ($4,156 per theater); and Warner Bros.' PG-13 teen drama A Walk to Remember held the third spot in its second week with $8.8 million at 2,420 theaters ($3,651 per theater).