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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Below you'll find a preview of the upcoming and highly anticipated Community Halloween episode. In it, Señor Chang is Peggy Fleming. Britta is a dinosaur, turtle, Yoshi incest disaster. Shirley is Glenda the Good Witch, and Jeff is David Beckham. The episode revolves around a Halloween party, where zombies are everywhere because the bouncer was too busy breathing in and suctioning a plastic cup onto his face and forgot to bounce them. But don't get your hopes up because at your Halloween party, there will be children with dirty fingers and runny noses. Unless, of course, you've made the decision never to befriend anyone with children...in which case, your festivities will have a fun level that rivals a Broadway performance of Spamalot. Also be careful in watching the clip below because the two spoon costumes you already bought for yourself and your boyfriend aren't returnable, and you're bound to want to change it once you see Donald Glover without his shirt on. Do not think you're better than anyone else.
The end of August is a dumping ground for marginal movies that are, in many cases, barely worthy of release. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer made friends on “the island of misfit toys,” but not even Rudolph would pay to see the “misfit movies” bowing for Labor Day weekend.
I am putting my money on a third consecutive weekend win for Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks/Paramount) with another excellent hold. With Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Tom Cruise all continuing to generate laughs in this Stiller-directed movie satire, it may have just enough juice to win another weekend with a three-day of $11M-$13M (my prediction is $12.5M) and a four-day of $14.5M-$16.5M (I am calling for $15.75M). That would push its US cume to $86M-$88M. At this pace, Tropic Thunder appears headed for $115M-$120M domestic.
Babylon A.D. (Fox) will probably finish at No. 2, the strongest opener of a weak crop of new titles. The last movie from director Mathieu Kassovitz, Gothika starring Halle Berry, was a disappointment with a $19.2M opening. This Vin Diesel sci fi vehicle will open even softer. Barely screened for critics, Babylon A.D. will likely finish with a 3-day of $11M-$13M, probably a tick below Tropic Thunder, and I am targeting $14.5M for the 4-day Labor Day weekend.
Vin Diesel, whose career seemed promising after his work in Saving Private Ryan, will likely post only his 6th-best opening, behind XXX ($44.5M), The Fast & The Furious ($40M), Saving Private Ryan ($30.6M), The Pacifier ($30.5M) and The Chronicles of Riddick ($24.3M).
The latest Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer movie spoof seems headed for a performance well below their previous silly satires. Tracking for Disaster Movie is pointing toward $9M-$11M for 3-days and $11M-$13M for the Friday-thru-Monday period. If my 3-day number of $10.5M holds, it will finish behind previous Friedberg/Seltzer openings Scary Movie 3 ($48.1M), Scary Movie ($42.3M), Scary Movie 4 ($40.2M), Scary Movie 2 ($20.5M), Epic Movie ($18.6M) and Meet the Spartans ($18.5M).
The House Bunny (Sony) has a strong chance of hopping to a #4 finish with $8M-$10M (my call is $9.3M) for the traditional weekend and $10M-$12M (I see $11M) for the long holiday weekend. The PG13-rated comedy’s new cume will be at about $30M by Tuesday morning.
MGM has rounded up an odd group of young actors to star in College. Included in the cast are Drake Bell, who has 54 episodes of the Nickelodeon series Drake & Josh on his resume, along with Andrew Cardwell (a few episodes of Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel), Kevin Covais (the singer known as Chicken Little from American Idol), Alona Tal (10 episodes of Veronica Mars on the CW) and Ryan Pinkston (a season of the Andy Richter series Quintuplets). With virtually no Awareness, little Definite Interest and a very soft First Choice, College will struggle to $3M-$4M for the 3-day and $4M-$5M for the 4-day.
The Focus comedy Hamlet 2 (Focus) expands to 1,500 screens on Friday, but the Sundance favorite has limited upside. I am expecting about $3.7M for the 3-day and $4.5M by Tuesday morning. That three-day would represent only Director Andrew Fleming’s sixth-best opening, trailing Threesome and Bad Dreams, both at $4M, but ahead of his political satire Dick ($2.2M).
Meanwhile, Don Cheadle’s Traitor (Overture), getting a jump on the weekend with a Wednesday opening, is receiving decent reviews, and it could reach $3.6M for Friday-thru-Sunday, $4.4M for the four-day and about $5.6M for 6 days. This will continue the streak of soft “War on Terror”-themed movies that has included Lions for Lambs ($6.7M), Rendition ($4M) and In the Valley of Elah ($1.5M).
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE FOUR-DAY LABOR DAY WEEKEND
1. Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $15.75M
2. NEW – Babylon A.D. A.D. (Fox) - $14.5M
3. NEW – Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) - $12.6M
4. The House Bunny (Sony) - $11M
5. Death Race (Universal) - $10.8M
6. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) - $8.3M
7. NEW – College (Fox) - $5M
8. Hamlet 2 (Focus) - $4.5M
9. NEW – Traitor (Overture) - $4.4M [$5.7M for 6 days]
10. Mamma Mia (Universal) - $3.5M