Film review: Muppets Most Wanted (PG)

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A POSTER advising “Die Muppets” causes con-sternation amongst the fleece and foam gang when they arrive in Berlin for the German leg of their world tour. “Looks like they posted the reviews early,” observes Fozzie Bear in one of this film’s many beat-them-to-the-punchline moments.

Muppets Most Wanted (PG)

Muppets Most Wanted. Picture: Contributed

Muppets Most Wanted. Picture: Contributed

Director: James Bobin

Running time: 112 minutes

Star rating: * * *

In 2011, The Muppets, Jason Segel’s tribute to Jim Henson’s TV troupe, was a global hit, and you don’t have to be Harvey Weinstein to figure out what that means in Movie World. “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,” sing the Muppets in their opening number – and, well, they should know, having chased that truth down to Muppets From Space.

The paradox of most sequels is that studios realise they have something unique, then try to replicate it. In Muppets Most Wanted, however, there’s a tacit acknowledgement that they have to find new territory, whilst cleaving to the ancient Muppet spirit. The result may not be as great a sequel as The Godfather: Part II, but if our typesetting would allow it, I’d mark it up as a half star more entertaining than Captain America: The Winter Soldier this week.

Fundamentally, Most Wanted gets its strength from the Muppets as first conceived by Jim Henson: a chaotic, dimwitted vaudeville troupe who would be lost without their MC. That’s what happens when villainous showbiz agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) promises them a world tour, then secretly replaces Kermit with Constantine, a doppelfrog and jailbird from a Siberian gulag, who plans to use the Muppet tour to access art treasures and bank vaults.

Powdering over the large mole on the left side of his face is all it takes to fool the Muppets, even though the new Kermit now sounds East European, has developed a different way of holding his mouth and, above all, finally agrees to marry Miss Piggy.

Meanwhile, Kermit has been transferred to Constantine’s old prison, where the commandant (Tina Fey) orders him to organise the camp’s annual variety show, a thin excuse for the film to offer us veteran film heavies Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo performing a number from A Chorus Line. It’s a reminder of the days of the Muppets on TV, where their weekly guests were usually overripe showbiz names such as Zero Mostel, John Denver or a post-ballet Rudolf Nureyev performing Swine Lake with Miss Piggy.

The cameos in Muppets Most Wanted are briefer and glitzier, but still bewildering for kids, unless they listened to Tony Bennett in the womb. Gervais’s extended role must be another puzzler for small fry, unless his book Flanimals became the new Harry Potter when I wasn’t paying attention.

Also fundamental to the Muppets is a love of groanworthy puns, both verbal and visual. Thus Christoph Waltz performs a waltz, and the Great Gonzo stages running with the bulls onstage in Spain, with Salma Hayek dressed in a red costume with a bullseye on the chest.

You may wonder if there’s an additional joke here about Muppet unworldliness, since they appear to have booked an Austrian actor to appear in Berlin, and a Mexican actress for Madrid. I have no idea. I hope so.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

• On general release from Friday

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