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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Oscar-winning producer and director Steven Spielberg announced Monday that he is stepping down from his position as an advisory board member of the Boy Scouts of America.
"The last few years in scouting have deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination. It's a real shame," Spielberg said from a prepared statement.
"I thought the Boy Scouts stood for equal opportunity and I have consistently spoken out publicly and privately against intolerance and discrimination based on ethnic, religious, racial and sexual orientation."
Spielberg did not specifically name which "intolerance and discrimination" he was referring to. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Boys Scouts' national policy banning gay members and leaders is constitutional and would be allowed to continue.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force applauded Spielberg for his resignation.
"We'd like to thank Steven Spielberg for recognizing the bigotry that the Boy Scouts' policy has been perpetuating," said Elizabeth Toledo, the NGLTF executive director. "This issue won't go away for the Boy Scouts. Through actions like these, they will be forced to revisit [their policies]."
The Boy Scouts also thanked Spielberg.
"We respect his decision to decline another term," said Jef Reilly, the group's national spokesperson. "Mr. Spielberg's been great for scouting and we appreciate his years of service and his devotion to scouting."
Reilly defended the Boy Scouts' stance against gays.
"We're not discriminating against anyone," he said. "It's all about values, and [homosexuality] is not something that is conducive to our values and morals as a private organization. Some people call it discrimination, but really it goes back to values.
"Homosexuals are not proper role models for our organization."
Spielberg, the director of The Color Purple, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, remains steadfast in his beliefs.
"Once scouting fully opens its doors to all who desire the same experience that so fully enriched me as a young person, I will be happy to reconsider a role on the advisory board," he said.
Spielberg attained the rank of Eagle Scout, which less than 4 percent of all Boy Scouts ever achieve. Other notable Eagle Scouts include former president Gerald Ford, former Senators Bill Bradley, Sam Nunn and Lloyd Bensen, Olympian Willie Banks, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harris Salsbury.
Spielberg had been on the advisory board for about 10 years, according to his publicist, Marvin Levy.
In related news, Universal Studios said Monday that it extended its international theatrical and worldwide home video distribution deal with Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG for five years. This after the expected arrangement with Warner Bros. didn't materialize with the 6-year-old entertainment company.
DreamWorks will receive $250 million in the form of a loan and an advance against future revenue as part of the deal, sources reported. DreamWorks, which is approximately $1 billion in debt, will use the infusion to pay down its liabilities and for production financing.
When contacted, Universal officials declined to comment on the financial details of its deal.
Universal essentially matched an offer that Warner Bros. parent AOL Time Warner was prepared to make with the studio, which was formed in 1994 by Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Although the Warner Bros. agreement was close to being finalized, there were sticking points, such as home video, that remained unresolved as of late last week.
The DreamWorks partners had been shopping their distribution deal since last year all over Hollywood, hoping that one of the major media companies would agree to take equity in their company. None of the parties, including Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.-owned 20th Century Fox, stepped up to the plate.
Heading into the weekend, Warner Bros. appeared to have the inside track. But, to the apparent surprise of Warner Bros. executives, lawyers for DreamWorks and Universal quietly hammered out a deal by late Sunday evening.
Before co-founding DreamWorks, Spielberg made some of his biggest hits for Universal, including Jaws and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
Warner Bros. continues to have a strong relationship with DreamWorks, with which it is co-financing and distributing two movies: the Spielberg-directed A.I. starring Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment, which is due out June 29, and Time Machine, which is before the cameras.
Rock and roll veteran John Phillips of the '60s group The Mamas and the Papas died of heart failure Sunday morning at UCLA Medical Center, his spokeswoman Elizabeth Freund told Reuters. The singer was 65.
Born in Parris Island, SC, on Aug. 30, 1935, he became an active participant in the New York folk community in the 1950s. He formed a band called the Journeymen, which included Michelle Phillips, whom he married in 1962.
Phillips then founded and became the main songwriter for the popular California quartet The Mamas and The Papas, whose most well-known tunes included "California Dreamin'," "Monday, Monday" and "Creeque Alley." The rest of the band included Michelle Phillips (they were divorced in 1970), Denny Doherty and "Mama" Cass Elliot, who died in 1974.
The Mamas and the Papas only played for three years, until 1968, but managed to have six top-five hits within that time. Although clearly of the hippie era, their soulful folk sounds were a testament to Phillips' creative influences. The group was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
His friend and producer Harvey Goldberg told Reuters, "There was a sophistication to the style of the melody and lyrics he wrote that almost approaches poetry." Phillips also has written songs for other artists, including the No. 1 hit "Kokomo" for the Beach Boys in 1988.
Ironically, Phillips was on a strong creative streak recently. He had recently completed an album of new material tentatively titled "Slow Starter," and he completed a record he started over 25 years ago with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones called "Pay Pack and Follow." It is set for release in May on Eagle Records in the U.K.
Phillips had received a liver transplant from his years of alcohol and drug abuse. But some tabloid reports suggested Phillips was waiting for another one. Phillips' eldest daughter, Mackenzie Phillips, was with him when he died and said he went peacefully. She said in a statement, "We are all mourning the loss of my Dad. He was a genius and a good man and will be missed. I spent the morning with my sisters Chynna and Bijou. We are all on our way to the beach where we will walk and swim and celebrate our father's life."
The singer/songwriter is survived by his wife, Farnaz, three daughters, Mackenzie, Chynna and Bijou, and two sons, Jeffrey and Tamerlane. His daughter Mackenzie is best known for her stint on the TV sitcom One Day At A Timeand can currently be seen in the Disney Channel's series So Weird. Chynna, another famous daughter, is a member of the reunited trio Wilson Phillips with Carnie and Wendy Wilson, daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson.