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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Actors in Los Angeles may be used to getting up earlier than most mere mortals to make their set call times and hit the makeup chairs and wardrobe trailers. But Desperate Housewives star James Denton's wee-hours rise to announce this year's 11th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award nominations on Tuesday came with an extra special reward: not only did he get to reveal that his co-star Teri Hatcher was in the running in the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series category, Denton himself was a nominee as well, joining his cast mates in the category of Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
"It's a real honor to be nominated for best ensemble," the wide-awake Denton, who was called to West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center as a last minute fill-in for Dennis Franz (who was stuck up north in Montecito unable drive to waterlogged L.A. because the freeways were shut down), told Hollywood.com. "And I was REAL happy to get to call Teri's name."
The actor, who plays the plumber-with-a-secret Mike Delfino on the hit show said it was definitely worth getting up on his day off. "I've got a baby, so I'm at this time of day anyway. Well, maybe I got up a little earlier than normal. But it was no problem at all. I was happy to jump in and fill in for Dennis."
Denton was eager to share the news with his co-stars but planned on waiting until a more appropriate hour. "I'll probably call Teri and congratulate her--I'll give her a couple hours. We'll see each other later on today. It'll be really fun to talk about it. Everybody's so thrilled. We're really honored with the People's Choice Award, and the Golden Globes are next weekend and almost all the women are nominated, so we're just really happy that people found us."
"I've been around long enough to know we're really fortunate, and take it sort of with a grain of salt in a way, because you don't want to feel like 'Oh, suddenly we've all arrived and we're gonna be rich and famous.'" said Denton of the Housewives" breakthrough season. "It's more a matter of people appreciating what you're doing. It's fun to go to work when you know people are going to see it. Believe me, I've gone to work on TV shows where you knew nobody was going to see it. It's really been a fun ride in that respect."
Along with the ensemble nod, Hatcher was the only Housewife to snare a solo nomination, joining familiar SAG staples Patricia Heaton, Doris Roberts, Megan Mullally and Sarah Jessica Parker in the female comedy category. The ensemble will compete against the casts of Arrested Development, Everybody Loves Raymond, Sex and the City and Will & Grace.
No Peer Pressure
Denton teamed with Alexander actress Rosario Dawson to make the live announcements for nominations, which encompass actors in both film and television. The SAG Awards will be presented and televised live on TNT on Feb. 5 in what is traditionally a star-studded ceremony, as most actors enjoy receiving accolades from their fellow thespians. "As an actor if you're getting nominated you know it's coming from your peers as opposed to a critic," Dawson told Hollywood.com. "It's not just an awards show, or a popularity or critics' contest.
"It's really about people who understand the work that goes into acting, who are inspired by it to the point of wanting to do it themselves, and just recognizing that an active actor," Dawson explained. "I'm really looking forward to the awards ceremony themselves. It's supposed to be just a love-fest: film and TV actors get together and just hang around and have a good time."
Denton agreed that the SAG Awards have a particular resonance among performers. "The SAG Awards are cool because we know how it works. So many of the other voting boards are kind of nebulous, and you're not really sure who they are. But with the SAG Awards it's people you know and you've worked with. And you get your own ballot so you know exactly how the process works, so it feels a little more real. And it's always interesting to see what actors respond to, That's a lot of fun, because I think we, whether it's right or wrong, tend to respect each others opinions-maybe more so than other people because we have the same attitudes. So it's fun to see what they nominate and what they vote for."
There were some clear favorites among this year's acting nominees. Jamie Foxx led the pack, with nods in the film categories for male lead and the ensemble of Ray as well as supporting male in Collateral and as the male lead for the TV movie Redemption. Hilary Swank also fared well, collecting noms as the female lead and in the ensemble of the feature Million Dollar Baby along with a nod as the female lead in the HBO telepic Iron Jawed Angels. Members of the cast of Sideways were other clear actors' darlings, with film nominations for Paul Giamatti (male lead), Thomas Haden Church (supporting male), Virginia Madsen (supporting female) and the entire ensemble.
Among series TV performers, familiar faces ruled: Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Jennifer Garner, Sean Hayes, Edie Falco, Tony Shalhoub, Christine Lahti, Kiefer Sutherland, James Gandolfini, Hank Azaria, Anthony Lapaglia, Heaton, Roberts, Mullally and Parker are among the perennials in various categories. Two and a Half Men's Charlie Sheen scored his first-even nomination as male lead in a comedy, while Drea de Matteo also got a solo nod-for The Sopranos not Joey-after several seasons of ensemble nominations.
And nine-times-ensemble-nominated actor Jerry Orbach, the Law & Order veteran who died in December, received his first solo nomination as male actor in a drama series.
In addition to sharing their respect for one another's talents, SAG president Melissa Gilbert also congratulated the prominent actors-such as Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, Famke Janssen and many others-who have stepped up and shown compassion and financial relief for the victims of the devastating tsunami in South Asia.
"The acting community has a long and distinguished history of aiding people in need, particularly in times of crisis, and I'm proud of the many actors who stepped forward this past week to be part of the relief effort," said Gilbert. "Our hearts and a prayers continue to be with those who have been affected."
In the tradition of giving and receiving, SAG has loaded up a celebrity gift basket jammed-packed with A-list goodies, many of which will be donated back for auction to benefit the SAG Foundation's community children's literacy and member assistance programs. To check out the SAG swag, visit www.sagawards.org/auction.
Here is the complete list of nominees:
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series for Television
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Megan Mullaly, Will & Grace
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series Made for Television
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series for Television
Everyone Loves Raymond
Sex and The City
Will & Grace
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series for Television
Hank Azaria, Huff
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Anthony LaPaglia, Without A Trace
Jerry Orbach, Law & Order
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for Television
Drea de Matteo, The Sopranos
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Allison Janey, The West Wing
Christine Lahti, Jack & Bobby
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series for Television
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Six Feet Under
The West Wing
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Glenn Close, Lion in Winter
Patrica Heaton, The Goodbye Girl
Keke Palmer, The Wool Cap
Hilary Swank, Iron Jawed Angels
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Jamie Foxx, Redemption
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Barry Pepper, The Dale Earnhardt Story
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Jon Voight, The Five People You Meet In Heaven
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Kate Winslet, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Leading Role
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
Jamie Foxx, Ray
Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Outstanding Performance for a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Cloris Leachman, Spanglish
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Thomas Hayden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
James Garner, The Notebook
Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland
Outstanding Performance by a Cast of a Motion Picture
Million Dollar Baby