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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Top Story: Dixie Chicks Give Two Cents on Schwarzenegger
Must be something about being on tour in Europe that inspires the Dixie Chicks to spout off on politics. Rolling Stone reports the country trio had plenty to say about another high-profile Republican besides President Bush. "[Arnold Schwarzenegger] is a great film star," banjo player Emily Robison told a German newspaper, "but I find his run for governor absolutely insane." She added, "America should be governed by people who have a clue. I hope he doesn't win." Maybe bodybuilders will ban the country singers this time.
Schwarzenegger's Ex-Girlfriend Writes Memoirs
On the heels of controversy surrounding reports of Schwarzenegger's naughty behavior decades ago, now it seems his first girlfriend, Barbara Outland Baker, is writing a memoir of her relationship with the Austrian actor called Surviving Arnold, Reuters reports. Baker, now an English professor at a California community college, dated the then Mr. Universe from 1969 until 1974. "I'm trying to sell it as an insider's account of Mr. Schwarzenegger's early years…with over 100 never-before-published photographs of Arnold," her book agent told Reuters. "She's been writing it for years, but obviously now is an opportune time to try to sell it."
Farrell Wields a Mighty Pen, Diaz Does Not
Irish hunk Colin Farrell has been named "best signer" by Autograph Collector magazine in its 12th annual poll of celebrity autograph givers, The Associated Press reports. "Colin is extremely generous with fans and collectors, and goes out of his way to sign for everyone he can at his movie premieres. ... He just flat-out loves to sign autographs," contributing editor Jeffrey Woolf, who helped compile the annual Best and Worst Signers list, told AP. The worst celebrity to be approached for autographs, he says, is Cameron Diaz. "She might be an Angel for Charlie, but Cameron is nothing short of a witch when it comes to signing autographs," Woolf said. Some of the best included Kate Bosworth, Jennifer Love Hewitt, The Osbournes and Jennifer Garner, while some of the worst included Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Orlando Bloom, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Christina Aguilera.
FCC Rules Stern Is Legit Newsman
The Federal Communications Commission ruled shock jock Howard Stern's daily radio show is a legitimate news program, exempting it from federal equal time rules on political coverage, Reuters reports. The FCC decision opens the way for the show to book two of the sexier candidates for California governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had been slated to appear on Stern in August, and porn star Mary Carey. The Communications Act requires broadcasters to treat political candidates equally when selling or giving away air time, although exceptions are made for news programs. Media Access Project, a media watchdog group, plans to appeal the ruling, claiming it is a reversal of decades of U.S. media regulation designed to promote fairness in election coverage.
Simon and Garfunkel Return
The singing-songwriting duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel announced Tuesday their plans to put aside their longstanding differences and launch a U.S. tour together for the first time in 20 years, Reuters reports. The Old Friends tour will hit 32 cities, starting at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan Oct. 18.
ABC Scores Ratings Touchdown
The opener of the NFL football season between the New York Jets and Washington Redskins last Thursday gave ABC its first nightly win in many months in the Neilsen ratings for the week of Sept. 1-7, the AP reports. NBC won the week, averaging 8.3 million viewers followed by a tie between CBS (7.8 million) and ABC (also 7.8 million); Fox (6.3 million); UPN (3 million) and the WB (2.9 million). The top 10 shows were: NFL Monday Night Football: N.Y. Jets vs. Washington, ABC; 2003 NFL Showcase, ABC; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS; Law & Order, NBC; NFL Post-Game Show, Fox; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS; The King of Queens, CBS; Law & Order: Criminal Intent, NBC; and CSI: Miami, CBS.
Sales Galore at Toronto Film Fest
Films were snapped up left and right at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival Tuesday, Variety reports. Jim Jarmusch's Coffee & Cigarettes was bought by United Artists for domestic distribution. Sony Pictures Classics picked up the Korean film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, while Newmarket Films acquired the Danish flick The Green Butchers.
Role Call: Phantom To Appear On-Screen; J.Lo Produces Documentary
With an all-star cast including Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciaran Hinds, Simon Callow, James Fleet, Victor McGuire and Jennifer Ellison, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical extravaganza The Phantom of the Opera is coming to the big screen via Warner Bros. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it will be directed by Joel Schumacher and starts production Sept. 15 in the U.K…Jennifer Lopez will make her first foray into producing by making the documentary Los Quinces through her banner Nuyorican Prods., in association with HBO. Variety reports the film revolves around the coming-of-age ball that marks a Cuban girl's 15th birthday.
Most of the independent movie theater owners in Quebec are refusing to book Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, Variety reports, because distributor 20th Century Fox is making demands that the owners consider unreasonable. Fox wants 70 percent of box office receipts for the first three weeks, rather than the usual first week, and is insisting the film stay in each theater's biggest hall for 12 weeks. Clones also comes out two weeks before the release of the French-language hit Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, which would force theaters to relegate this high-profile sequel to smaller theaters. Clones will open Thursday on only 86 screens across the province, but on almost none of the 363 independent screens.
Hollywood darling Gwyneth Paltrow has won strong praise for her performance at the British premiere of Proof Wednesday night, Sky News reports. Paltrow plays the daughter of a mad mathematical genius in her West End debut. Valentine Low of London's Evening Standard described the Oscar winner's performance as virtually flawless.
Actress Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda Hobbes on the HBO hit series Sex and the City, received a summons for allegedly blocking the sidewalk outside City Hall in New York on Tuesday while protesting budget cuts to schools, The Associated Press reports. Nixon and 11 other protestors were charged with disorderly conduct and will have to appear in court at a later date.
Worried about becoming the object of a media feeding frenzy, German model Claudia Schiffer and her boyfriend, film producer Matthew Vaughn, are keeping their wedding plans a secret. About the only thing known is that a Church of England official told Reuters that the couple had been granted a special license to marry in the eastern English county of Suffolk.
Arson has been ruled out as the cause of a fire that destroyed the summer home of Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton in Cape Cod, Mass., Launch.com reports. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blaze that gutted the house and a nearby barn that was near--but not part of--Hamilton's property.
Tina Wesson, the winner of Survivor: The Australian Outback, is lending her support to the Arthritis Foundation in hopes of helping the organization raise up to $250,000 and awareness for rheumatoid arthritis--a disease she has herself. One dollar will be donated for each person who registers through the Survive and Succeed campaign Web site.
R&B singer Tyrese is in talks to star in the sequel to last summer's hit The Fast and the Furious alongside Paul Walker.
Josh Hartnett has been cast in the action/adventure film Wish You Were Here, about four friends who try to smuggle a fortune out of Morocco, Variety reports. No director is attached to the project yet.
Sexy Beast star Ben Kingsley is in negotiations to star in Suspect Zero as an avenging former FBI agent dedicated to hunting down serial killers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film, which will be directed by E. Alias Merhige, goes into production in New Mexico in August.
Fox has decided to cancel the James Cameron sci-fi action series Dark Angel, Daily Variety reports. The network cited low ratings as the reason behind the cancellation. The show, which stars Jessica Alba, never transcended its cult status and ranked 125th among primetime series.
Fox dropped John Wayne Bobbitt from its scheduled Celebrity Boxing bout against Joey Buttafuoco after Bobbitt was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife, the AP reports. Bobbitt, who came to fame when his ex-wife cut off his penis in 1993, was replaced by former World Wrestling Federation star Joanie "Chyna" Laurer for the match.
The Osbourne Family Album will be released on June 11 by Epic Records and will feature a track by youngest daughter Kelly, a cover of Madonna's 1986 hit "Papa Don't Preach." The album will also feature Pat Boone's version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and John Lennon's "Imagine," Reuters reports.
This year's Black Entertainment Television Awards will honor boxer Muhammad Ali and R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire on June 25. Ali will receive BET's Humanitarian Award while Earth, Wind & Fire will get a Lifetime Achievement Award, the AP reports.
Actor-turned-publicist Ray Stricklyn died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a battle with chronic emphysema, the AP reports. He was 73. Stricklyn, who represented stars like Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor, starred in several feature films, including The Catered Affair and Ten North Frederick.