Music proves McKenzie's no muppet
"Everybody knows," sing The Muppets in their cautionary opening musical scene-setter, "that the sequel is never quite as good."
Actually, thanks to the lazy, self-indulgent 2011 "original" (which had actually been their seventh silver-screen excursion), this is actually better. Where the original tried to make a virtue of its lazy implausibility, this one at least tries to stitch together a credible plot. And, yes, while some characters are unconvincing even as fluffy puppets and The Muppets are much less charming than they imagine, the writing here is much sharper and brisker, particularly when it comes to Brett McKenzie's music, which is genuinely clever.
Picking up immediately after the first movie ends, The Muppets decide to capitalise on their comeback with a world tour, and appoint a new manager in the smooth-talking Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). But he's really the offsider of an amphibian criminal mastermind, Constantine, a dead ringer for Kermit, who breaks out of a Siberian gulag, contrives to have Kermit arrested in his place, and then uses the various tour stop-offs to rob European cultural monuments.
You might credit much of the improvement to Gervais, who is a much more convincing human lead than Jason Segel ever was in the first movie. In support, there's also a delightfully hammy Tina Fey as a prison guard who falls for our green hero and a nice turn from Ty Burrell as an idle Interpol agent who delivers a quite diverting bromance subplot with Sam, the American Eagle, as they pursue Gervais and Constantine across Europe.
McKenzie excels with the scenes in the gulag, where Kermit choreographs a crew of inmates including Conchords mate Jemaine Clement and Ray Liotta, and there's the usual passing fun to see the even briefer celeb cameos, from Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Sean Combs and Salma Hayek, to the best gag of the lot, the singer Usher as a wedding usher (you can imagine how that plays out).
MUPPETS MOST WANTED (G) 113mins
Sunday Star Times