Movie date:Muppets Most Wanted

USA - What a weird step backwards for this beloved franchise.

The 2011 hit The Muppets gave us a very contemporary and accessible take on the characters, with none of the schticky nonsense that ended up dragging down previous Muppet movies.

Writer and star Jason Segel told a story both parents and kids could relate to, and injected the film with truly poignant songs - Man Or Muppet resonated on a surprisingly deep level.

The jokes were truly funny and not just corny.

With Muppets Most Wanted, we're back with the same sort of silliness we saw in old-time Muppet flicks - none of the warmth we felt with Segel's movie, just gag after gag after gag.

The songs are pretty lame - used to drive the plot forward rather than to explore grander themes or feelings.

One of the film's main problems is Gervais, who has become a strangely unlikable fellow in recent years.

You can imagine Segel hugging the Muppets and genuinely loving them, but Gervais seems lost.

Fey, playing Kermit's prison guard, tries to be delightful, but how delightful can one be in a Russian prison?

The brightest light in the whole film is Burrell as a very French policeman. He gives his all, and seems truly engaged.

While everyone else is trying to make a Muppet movie, he's just having a ball.

Kermit the Frog is living out his famous song - that it sure isn't easy being green.

The famous green amphibian is known for his tenacity and ingenuity, so we know he'll find a way out of his Siberian gulag mess.

And that's my beef with this sequel.

Everything here is by the numbers.

It lacks the sparkle and spontaneity of the Muppets' last big-screen outing in 2011.

While the charm is still present, there's none of that nostalgic quality that gives this movie a heart.

The plot also gets monotonous and slow in the middle.

Thankfully, the pace picks up towards the end, and as usual, it's up to Kermit to save the day.

He brings back the madcap caper and old-school fun that's unique to The Muppets.

Gervais does a decent job, but it's Burrell's chemistry with Sam the Eagle that shines.

The many celebrity cameos are funny - Christoph Waltz doing the waltz, Tom Hiddleston as an escape artist, Usher playing an usher - but the musical numbers are the main draw here.

Noteworthy songs are the ones between Constantine and Badguy, and Fey's gulag item.

STARRING: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Matt Vogel DIRECTOR: James Bobin THE SKINNY: Just as the Muppets finally get back together, master criminal Constantine (Vogel) disguises himself as Kermit (Whitmire) and takes his place in the gang. Along with his accomplice Dominic Badguy (Gervais), Constantine takes the Muppets on a European tour but his real plan is to unlock the code to a hidden treasure. Meanwhile, Kermit is trapped in a Russian prison. RATING: PG

THE CONSENSUS: This is not exactly the most wanted Muppet movie we were expecting compared to its charming predecessor.

This article was published on April 23 in The New Paper.

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