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A great Muppet caper Muppets Most Wanted'

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Sequel doesn't quite measure up, still strong

I've been a lover of the Muppets for a long time. I loved their last movie and was extremely enthusiastic when I heard that a sequel is on the way. Judging by the trailers, 'Muppets Most Wanted' seemed to offer some parallels to 'The Great Muppet Caper,' much like 'The Muppets' paralleled 'The Muppet Movie' in some ways. Again, I was on board.

What I got was good. Could it have been better? Probably. But 

The film starts right as the last film ends, with a director calling 'Cut!' and the streets filled with enthusiastic fans filtering out. The Muppets are left standing in the street, wondering what to do next. Of course, the answer is obvious:

It's time for a sequel.

The Muppets meet up with the ominously-named Dominic Badguy (pronounced 'bad-jee' it's French), played by Ricky Gervais (TV's 'Derek'), who talks them into undertaking a world tour, despite Kermit's misgivings.

Meanwhile, Constantine master criminal and the 'most dangerous frog in the world' has made his escape from a Siberian gulag. Conveniently enough, aside from a prominent mole on his lip, Constantine is a dead ringer for Kermit. Constantine and Badguy are in cahoots, leading to a switcheroo in which Constantine replaces Kermit in the Muppets and Kermit is captured and shipped off to the gulag.

Constantine's master plan involves a major heist so major that CIA agent Sam the Eagle and Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell, TV's 'Modern Family') are brought in to investigate. Kermit, on the other hand, is left to his own devices at the gulag, finding himself under the watchful eye of head guard Nadya (Tina Fey, 'Admission').

Will the Muppets be able to uncover the deception in time to rescue Kermit and prevent the fulfillment of Constantine's sinister machinations?

Here's a hint: the movie isn't called 'Evil Frog Gets Away With It.'

There's a lot to love about 'Muppets Most Wanted.' We still catch glimpses of that wonderful satirical self-awareness beneath the family-friendly veneer. It's definitely the sort of movie that appeals to a broad range of audience members; there are jokes aimed squarely at the kiddies, high-concept bits clearly intended for adults and plenty of inside baseball Muppet references for the nostalgic.

It just never quite reaches the feverish brilliance of the first movie. That's not a condemnation, by any means, nor is it something that the filmmakers themselves don't understand going in. The first song in the movie 'We're Doing a Sequel' acknowledges that truth in the opening lines, singing that 'the sequel's never quite as good.' It's funny because it's true.

The main players are clearly all-in. Gervais has a blast as the scheming Badguy, oozing a smarmy charm throughout. Burrell is fun as Agent Napoleon; even though he spends most of his time riffing on European stereotypes, he gamely makes it work. And you get the impression that Tina Fey has spent her whole professional life wanting to work with the Muppets; she somehow manages to make a Russian prison guard sweetly goofy.

And of course, there are the cameos. Ray Liotta ('Suddenly'), Danny Trejo ('Machete Kills') and Tom Hiddleston ('Thor: The Dark World') are all prisoners in the gulag. Christoph Waltz ('Django Unchained'), Salma Hayek ('Grown Ups 2'), Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett all appear as themselves. Celine Dion shows up at one point and there's a singer in a gulag box whose identity proves to be a delight when finally revealed.

The songs again written by Bret McKenzie of 'Flight of the Conchords' are good, though they never quite achieve the toe-tapping catchiness of those in the first film. Still, they're solid and make for some absolutely delightful musical numbers.

'Muppets Most Wanted' isn't as good as 'The Muppets' and that's OK. It's still really, really good. The anarchic spirit might have been diluted just a touch this time around, but it's still a Muppet movie. It's good to be together again again.

[4 out of 5]

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