SINGAPORE - Almost six decades in and The Muppets seem to lose none of their timeless appeal with their wicked absurdist humour. A 2011 big screen namesake reboot became their most successful cinematic outing ever, prompting this sequel which Kermit and gang are quick to acknowledge as a bit of a cash-grab in the movie's opening number, We're Doing a Sequel.
But that's just their good ol' self-referential humour kicking in early, with the lyrics warning this might not be half as good as the original. Unfortunately, they might have also spoken a little too soon. To be fair, the first film did set the bar very high with its zany energy, blink-and-you'll-miss-it celebrity cameos and outrageous laugh-a-minute gags.
Muppets Most Wanted follows pretty much the same formula and is an entertaining romp; though the surprise factor is no longer as fresh. The wholesome goofiness of Jason Segel and Amy Adams from the first film - which gave it an all-ages appeal - is also missing because they've been replaced by Ricky Gervais (The Office) and Tina Fey (30 Rock).
Both Gervais and Fey boast a broader comic range which they put to good use here but their following is slightly older because of their works on television so Muppets Most Wanted feels less family-oriented. Throw in a couple of Cold War references - the villain is a Russian frog and parts of the film take place in a Siberian Gulag - and it's almost as if returning director-writer James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stroller momentarily forgot about the kids this time round.
Thankfully, the Muppets aren't the Muppets if they are not up to some sort of mischief so all's not lost for the young ones. This time, they are lured on a transcontinental trek across Europe by a dodgy promoter Dominic Badguy (it's pronounced "bad-ghee" because it's French) played by Gervais, who promises to turn them into an international sensation.
While in Berlin - where the fuzzy troupe's name translates hilariously into Die Muppets - Kermit ends up getting arrested because he's mistaken for his lookalike Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog that's just broken out of jail. As it turns out, both Constantine and Badguy are actually in cahoots and the Muppets tour he planned is just to cover up his grand plan of carrying out a series of heists across Europe.
With their identities now switched, Constantine becomes the Muppets' new leader while Kermit kills time behind bars by organising the Gulag's annual talent show with Nadya (Fey), a guard who cannot wait to unleash her inner showgirl. But when Constantine proceeds to sweep Miss Piggy off her feet and tries to marry her, Kermit is forced to take matters into his own hands as he plans his own prison break.
It's an old-fashioned madcap Muppets crime caper with plenty of slapstick comedy, sight gags and lively song-and-dance routines to keep the entertainment value as high as possible at all times. Bret McKenzie's musical numbers still shine and the endless stream of cameos (Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Salma Hayek; the red-carpet-worthy list goes on) will keep the audience glued to the screen.
Muppets Most Wanted has a tough act to follow because the first time pulled out all the stops. But anybody who grew up with this furry bunch and still has an inner child will know resisting the Muppets' classic comic charm is futile. Rating: C+
This article was published on April 25 in The Straits Times.
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