Muppets Most Wanted Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell. Directed by James Bobin. Rated PG. Opens Friday.
Muppets Most Wanted opens with a tongue-in-cheek musical number featuring the beloved felt characters singing about how a sequel is never as good as the original, and while self-mockery has always been a hallmark of the Muppets, there’s definitely a hint of desperation about the tune. As it turns out, “We’re Doing a Sequel” ends up being the high point of the mediocre Most Wanted, which is every bit the dutiful franchise-extender that 2011 comeback vehicle The Muppets was not.
Although most of the creative team from the 2011 film returns, including director (and now co-writer) James Bobin, co-writer Nicholas Stoller and songwriter Bret McKenzie, the key missing ingredient is co-writer/executive producer/star Jason Segel, whose passion for the Muppets helped make the previous movie a reality. Instead of an endearing love letter to the characters, Most Wanted is a rote exercise in brand management, placing the Muppets in the middle of a silly heist story about a criminal mastermind who happens to look exactly like Kermit the Frog.
The evil Constantine switches places with Kermit to carry out his dastardly plans, but the stakes of the story never seem particularly meaningful. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell play the main human characters with enthusiasm, and the parade of celebrity cameos and pop-culture puns results in occasional funny bits. Overall, though, Most Wanted is entirely forgettable, exactly the kind of genial time-filler that Segel was trying to move the characters beyond when he spearheaded their initial revival.