Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Film Review: The Muppets

I wasn't a kid that was brought up on the Muppets, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate their zany antics as much as the next person. Indeed, it's almost impossible to resist the charms of these feral felt fellows who brought us such classics as 'Mahna Mahna' and an arguably better rendition of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. After nearly twelve years since their last outing on our screens in the somewhat tepid Muppets From Space, Kermit and the gang are back struggling to figure out whether they're still relevant in the modern world.

Gary (Segel) and brother Walter (Linz) are lifelong Muppet fans. When they take a trip to visit the famous Muppet Studios, Walter learns of a diabolical scheme by nefarious Tex Richman (Cooper) to destroy the site in search for oil. That is, unless Gary and Walter can reunite the now disparate Muppets in an effort to raise $10million.

As far as plot conventions go, The Muppets uses one of the oldest in the book - that of some great obstacle facilitating the reconciliation of a group long since disbanded. There's nothing wrong with this, but it isn't exactly a fresh take on the concept either. But this is really just an excuse to get all these weird little creatures in one room, doing weird little things to each other, which is essentially what the Muppets are all about. This would have been fine, had the script been a tad sharper. There were so many moments in The Muppets where the set up gave a palpable sense of a devastatingly sharp punchline, only frequently to be delivered with a tepidness which can only be described as slightly disappointing. One moment for example involves Walter asking Gary to throw him over Kermit's fence. Gary's girlfriend, Mary (Adams) warns that it looks electric, but Gary throws Walter into it anyway. Sure enough, Walter receives a zap to the nether regions for Amy to confirm with the punchline "Yep, it's an electric fence". Maybe it was the delivery, but it certainly induced a cringing groan. And yet, it would be unfair to say this is typical of the film's humour. A joke involving 'travel by map' in a piss-take of Indiana Jones is well realised, as are the more simple pleasures of chickens performing their own take of Cee-Lo Green's 'Forget You'.

Jason Segel, who also co-wrote this with Nick Stoller (Get Him To The Greek), rightly takes a back seat with the rest of the non-Muppet cast. You can certainly tell that Segel is a huge Muppets fan, although there is a lasting impression that he has perhaps treated the subject material with a bit too much reverence. While the Muppets remain effusive throughout proceedings, there is an underlying feeling that they're never quite let off the chain to display all their wacky glory. As for the other human involvement, Amy Adam's purpose as Gary's girlfriend is never really justified, serving more as an irritation than anything else. If The Muppets really wanted a love story arc, then it would have done better to concentrate more on Kermit and Miss Piggy. Chris Cooper however is better as smarmy bad-guy Tex Richman, displaying a natural panache for this type of character, reminiscent of his roles in the Bourne movies. Unfortunately though The Muppet's celebrity cameos aren't nearly as impressive. Throughout you expect an A-lister to swing in from the rafters but by the end it is Jack Black who is held up to be the pinnacle of Hollywood talent here. Which is saying something.

The Muppets are most definitely charming, however the film has a habit of losing its way in places or not quite hitting that high note. It can be sharp, and there are a couple of more than decent musical scores written by Flight Of The Conchord's Bret McKenzie such as the brilliant 'Man Or Muppet', but there are some equally bland affairs. Moreover though this remains cheery and effervescent throughout, which is the film's main strength. As a neutral you will certainly find enjoyable moments, but The Muppets is primarily for grown-up fans who will be able to ignore or forgive its faults and bask in its overall clout.