Waldorf and Statler are my favorite Muppets. Given that they act like cheerfully cruel movie critics, I suppose it’s only natural I’m so fond of them. They’re a couple of crusty, well-attired but cynical old coots. During the televised The Muppet Show and in the movies, we see them sitting in balcony seats, viciously mocking the show unfolding before them. I still laugh when I recall one of them saying to the other, “There’s something wrong with these seats.” The other replies, “Of course there is: they’re facing the stage!” They then let out a laugh that sounds kind of like an owl letting out a long, hiccup of a yawn: “Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho!” I love those guys.
In the new Muppet movie, their barbed humor is, as always, pointed at the efforts of Kermit the Frog to stage a great show. The problem is that this time out, their heckling kind of stings. The sad truth is that Waldorf and Statler are right about this movie: it isn’t very good.
The opening scenes give a clear sign that something is off. We open immediately after the closing song of the previous entry, the hit and miss but occasionally great The Muppets. We see two actors whose backs are facing us; they’re supposed to be Jason Segal and Amy Adams, the stars of the prior movie. The camera pans away and we never see Segal, Adams (or, more likely, their stand-ins) again.
It feels like a stingy way of acknowledging, then dropping, the delightful stars of the 2011 movie. We then move into a song and dance number in which Kermit and the gang sing about sequels typically being inferior and not as good as the original. This should come across like a cocky wink to the audience but turns into a sadly prophetic, unintentional acknowledgment of the subpar movie that follows.
The over-plotted narrative concerns the Muppets being swindled into embarking on an international tour, where they do their stage show in exotic locations. Their manager is played by Ricky Gervais, who is surprisingly good. I’m not a fan of Gervais, whose jovial nastiness in other works feels one-note. But here, he gives a full-blown performance, seemingly surrendering himself to acting against fuzzy, googly-eyed puppets.
The other big character is Constantine, a Russian super agent who’s a frog and a dead-ringer for Kermit. There’s a jail break, with Constantine bouncing off the walls like a CGI Yoda. There’s also a Clouseau-like French cop (Ty Burrell), teamed with Sam the Eagle, on the hunt for Constantine and a criminal identified as The Lemur. We also have scenes of Tina Fey, in a cringe-inducing performance, playing a Russian prison guard. Oh, and the Muppets put on a show.
It’s over-plotted, though the jokes that work almost compensate for a too-busy narrative. In comparison to the previous movie, only the celebrity appearances are a step up. I loved the cameos from Usher and Christophe Waltz, both cast because of their pun-worthy names. Josh Groban has a hilariously degrading cameo and Celine Dion has the best musical number, where she belts out a power ballad with Miss Piggy.
This is better than Muppets From Space and there are funny moments, but this is closer to the so-so The Great Muppet Caper than one of their stronger vehicles. The fast pace and joke ratio, matched with the emphasis on Russian super spies, makes it appear the inspiration wasn’t Jim Henson but Despicable Me. I don’t mean that as a compliment.
A reprise of the great “Together Again,” from The Muppets Take Manhattan, is a nice touch. So are the end credits. A few of the movie’s songs are fun but this only works in spurts. I’ll be nice and say it’s funny but forced. Waldorf and Statler wouldn’t be so kind.
Score: ** (1-5 Star Scale)