These plot details give some idea of how "Muppets Most Wanted" gets away from the charm of 2011's hit "The Muppets." Where that film was super-sweet and crammed with sly Muppet-style humor, the sequel is strangely sour, despite some yuks along the way.
We're given fair warning. This one opens as the previous film ends (Jason Segel and Amy Adams are not around this time), and the Muppets break out into a song about how Hollywood demands sequels that are never as good as the first film.
That's a very "Muppet Show" gag, but it doesn't come off here. Looking to continue their showbiz comeback, our felt friends sign up with a duplicitous promoter (Ricky Gervais) who takes them off for a European tour. He's got an ulterior motive.
Meanwhile, the world's most dangerous frog—a Russian criminal mastermind known as Constantine — escapes from Siberia. He's a dead ringer for Kermit, except for a prominent mole over his lip. (Note to self: Find out if frogs have lips.) Using a daub of green makeup, Constantine substitutes himself for Kermie, and our hero is sent away to hard labor.
Gervais has a funny song with Constantine where they argue over who's the No. 1 villain. Kermit, meanwhile, is asked by a stern prison guard (Tina Fey) to supervise the camp's musical production.
That's how we get to the surreal scene of prisoners performing "I Hope I Get It" from "A Chorus Line." Their grubby ranks include Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo. (The movie has a zillion celebrity cameos, some quick, some slightly longer.)
The new songs are again composed by Bret McKenzie, who won an Oscar for the previous film. Despite a few choice moments, these fall short of last time—and even when they're funny, they carry a whiff of vinegar that seems out of place.
Tina Fey is in good form, and Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") nails his Inspector Clouseau-like character, an Interpol agent investigating robberies that happen to occur next door to the Muppets' performances.
Geopolitically, "Most Wanted" is timely in its targeting of Russian overreach as a subject. But this, too, might be another reason this movie stumbles when it ought to leap.
"Muppets Most Wanted" (two stars)
A sequel to the 2011 hit, but replacing the super-sweet charm of that film with an oddly sour aftertaste. Kermit the Frog is imprisoned in a Russian gulag, and an evil impostor uses the Muppets for dastardly purposes — maybe a little too dark for a Muppet picture. With Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey.
Rating: PG, for subject matter
Opening: Friday at Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic Theatre, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Thorton Place Stadium, Varsity, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza.
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