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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I’m not sure if last night’s episode of The Voice was particularly surreal, or if that was just a side effect of the massive dose of cold medicine I took right before it started. Either way, the fun is contagious (and the next time I’m tempted to make a terrible pun, I promise I’ll just cough on you instead).
For Team Blake, Nashville veteran Liz Davis battles Nicole Johnson, a less experienced country performer. Blake coyly assigns them “Baggage Claim” by Miranda Lambert (that is, Mrs. Shelton). The coach also offers a bizarrely intense commentary on 25-year-old Liz’s fading (?) career prospects: “This needs to happen now, if it’s ever going to.” He’s right, girl — hurry up before rigor mortis sets in.
The ladies ultimately turn in a polished duet, but Liz’s sultry, gritty edge wins her the battle. Backstage, poor Nicole tears up, but Blake chases her down with a comforting goodbye hug. D’aww.
Adam and mentor Mary J. Blige — by the way, the requisite footage of contestants reacting to how impressive their coaches and mentors are and oh my god what huge influences they’ve been has officially gotten old — pair performing arts student Alessandra Guercio and Kayla Nevarez, both 17. As they rehearse “Wide Awake,” it occurs to me that the girls kind of look alike, and also both look a little bit like Katy Perry — but don’t put too much stock in that, because it’s probably just the NyQuil talking.
Both singers are undeniably talented, but Kayla has — I can’t believe I’m saying this as compliment — a Disney quality to her, an ingénue sweetness that I find endearing. Despite Alessandra’s superior power, her performance feels artificial. My general impression of Guercio is a 37-year-old performing in a 17-year-old’s body.
It’s close, but Adam picks Kayla. After a confusing (if predictably narcissistic) digression about her time in the Mickey Mouse Club, Christina claims Alessandra — her first steal of the season!
A few excerpted battles flash by: Cee Lo’s Mycle Wastman knocks out Ben Taub on that song from the Internet Explorer commercials. On team Adam, Michelle Brooks-Thompson defeats Adanna Duru on “Crazy in Love” (how dare you play me only an abbreviated version of a Beyoncé song, producers — how dare you?). Christina pits married duo Beat Frequency against Latin pop singer Laura Vivas on “Poker Face.” Thankfully, Laura wins, but I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see more of my favorite freak show of a double act — plus, I would have been legitimately curious to witness the three-person rehearsal dynamic in action.
For the episode’s final battle, Cee Lo’s Emily Earle faces MacKenzie Bourg in a rare co-ed duet/romcom premise. If you’re reading this, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, give me a call.
With the pair’s “youthfulness and energy” in mind, Cee Lo asks them to perform Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time.” Emily stresses about leaving her country comfort zone, while MacKenzie is nervous to perform without an instrument to occupy his hands (the masturbation joke is almost too easy — on second thought, it’s just easy enough).
In rehearsal, MacKenzie dons a hideous “Navajo”-print polo, but soon outdoes himself with a pair of suspenders in the live performance. As much as hipster Harry Potter’s fashion sense irritates me, I really do like his voice — plus, Owl City perfectly suits his style. Emily’s performance is good, but sounds too much like a country artist’s novelty version of the song.
Resistance is futile — Cee Lo submits to the Borg. In the audience, MacKenzie’s bald, comically bro-y Dad turns out to be Hank Schrader, shouting “THAT’S MY BOY” at the top of his lungs. (MacKenzie doesn’t perform rock, dammit, but minerals.)
Tune in next Monday at 8 p.m. as The Voice’s battle round continues. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @mollyfitz.
[Image Credit: NBC]
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