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posted: 3/20/2014 6:00 AM

These 'Muppets' not wanted all that much

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  • Constantine, a criminal Kermit the frog look-alike, takes over the Muppets World Tour in "Muppets Most Wanted."

      Constantine, a criminal Kermit the frog look-alike, takes over the Muppets World Tour in "Muppets Most Wanted."

  • A sleazy manager (Ricky Gervais) usurps Kermit's control of the Muppets World Tour in the disappointing "Muppets Most Wanted."

      A sleazy manager (Ricky Gervais) usurps Kermit's control of the Muppets World Tour in the disappointing "Muppets Most Wanted."

  • Video: "Muppets Most Wanted" trailer

 
 

Statler and Waldorf are touring Germany when they see a theater ad reading "Die Muppets!"

"Are the reviews out early?" Statler asks.

"Maybe it's a suggestion box!" Waldorf adds.

Or maybe, old Statler and Waldorf have just become observant critics of their own movie.

So much of "Muppets Most Wanted" has been repurposed from earlier Muppet adventures that it undermines what few new, fun songs and comic situations actually make it to the silver screen.

Remember the bouncy classic anthem "Together Again" from "The Muppets Take Manhattan" (still the best in the series, furry hands down)?

It's back. Only now, another "again" has been added to the lyrics, so that the Muppets sing, "Together again -- again! We're together again -- again!" As if acknowledging the musical recidivism takes on an element of cleverness.

In "Muppets Most Wanted," the mopey Muppets miss their missing Kermit -- again.

Miss Piggy comes off as a matrimonial bulldozer attempting to bully Kermit into marrying her -- again.

(When Zach Galifianakis shouts, "This is the best Muppet wedding ever!" true Muppet fans want to shout back, "Zach, get a DVD of 'Muppets Take Manhattan.' Even Big Bird showed up for that one.")

"Muppets Most Wanted" doesn't limit its creative larceny to its own cinematic predecessors. In a late scene, the movie heists the famous mirror sequence from the Marx Brothers' 1933 comedy "Duck Soup." Inside a mirror frame, Kermit the Frog imitates the movements of Constantine, his villainous Russian doppelgänger, so that the bad frog will think Kermit is just his reflection.

Is it amusing? Perhaps to those who've never seen the original classic (better replicated by Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx in the old "I Love Lucy" TV series). But director/co-writer James Bobin doesn't update the bit, or give it a witty twist.

"Muppets Most Wanted" opens with the gang warbling a clever song about making sequels, until they get to the lyrics, "Everybody knows that the sequel's never quite as good!"

Never quite as good? Really?

Was this opening number wisely lowering our expectations for disappointments to come?

In a Siberian gulag, Constantine the most evil frog villain in the world plots to abduct Kermit and send him to gulag while he impersonates Kermit with a sleazy Slavic accent.

Of course, nobody, not even Miss Piggy, notices the abrupt change in "Kermit's" voice and personality. Except for Animal, who smells a rat and shouts, "Bad frog!"

Ricky Gervais provides some welcome comic momentum as Dominic Badguy, who pretends to manage the Muppet's World Tour while secretly working as Constantine's No. 2 guy. (Their duet about being "No. 2" is a hoot.) They're actually plotting to steal the Crown Jewels of London.

Meanwhile back at the gulag, fetching Russian prison camp commander Tina Fey allows "Constantine" to direct an all-male revue of "A Chorus Line" with beefy stars Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta in dance togs right out of a Mel Brooks skit.

At only 112 minutes, "Muppets Most Wanted" runs too long and no amount of "surprise" cameos by Tony Bennett, Usher, Celine Dion, Frank Langella, Ty Burrell and others can abate the feeling we're being strung along.

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