It'd be hard for any modern-day "Muppets" movie to top Jason Segel's 2011 reintroduction of Jim Henson's beloved creations.
Still, "Muppets Most Wanted" is a significant comedown after the inspired previous film, which effectively incorporated nostalgic currents in terms of sentimental attachments to Kermit the Frog and company and old-fashioned Hollywood iconography.
This sequel reunites "The Muppets" director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller but it's missing what must have been the Segel touch, sacrificing emotion and charm in favor of a second-rate caper send-up.
The film finds the Muppets on a tour of Europe, entrusting their well-being to the appropriately named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who has hatched a plan with the evil frog Constantine to land Kermit in a Siberian gulag so that they can rob the Crown Jewels in London.
The movie has its share of pun-heavy antics, plus the expected stunt casting (Tina Fey as a lovesick Siberian prison guard) and cameos (everyone from Christoph Waltz to Lady Gaga and Saoirse Ronan).
Bret McKenzie's songs won't win him a second Academy Award, but they maintain a clever, self-reflexive spirit. Few sights could be stranger and more unexpected than Gervais performing a musical number alongside a dastardly Russian frog.
In the most basic sense, "Muppets Most Wanted" offers the familiar goods. It plays more like an everyday spoof, though, than a film in love with these characters and what they represent. The supporting Muppets are criminally underutilized; the group dynamic plays second-fiddle to the machinations of a thin, inconsequential plot while the movie registers as a series of fast-paced distractions in search of a unified whole.
Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by James Bobin
Starring Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell