*** (out of four)
In "Muppets Most Wanted," a scene in Berlin features Christoph Waltz, who is part German. A scene in Dublin features Saoirse Ronan, who is Irish. And a scene in Madrid features Salma Hayek, who is Mexican. This is either offensive or a missed opportunity to joke that Penelope Cruz wasn't available. Or both.
Fortunately, most of the sequel to 2011's franchise rejuvenation "The Muppets" gets its gags right. The plot, a bit too reminiscent of the 1981 classic "The Great Muppet Caper," involves a dastardly liar (Ricky Gervais) and his evil plan to steal the Crown Jewels from the Mallory Gallery -- sorry, I mean the Tower of London -- while letting the Muppets take the fall. Because the beloved gang is remarkably gulliblivious (a word that should exist in Muppet-land), they suspect nothing of Gervais' character even though his name is Dominic BadGuy. Or of Constantine, the criminal mastermind who swaps places with his doppelganger, Kermit, landing the nice green guy in a Siberian prison and the imposter on a world tour with Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and company. Only new family member Walter, the main character of the joyous "The Muppets" who was just slightly more Muppet-y than Jason Segel, raises an eyebrow as Constantine says "I em Kermeet" in a thick Eastern European accent and addresses Gonzo as Zongo and Scooter as "small man with glasses."
This is quintessential Muppets playfulness, and the big laughs and pretty good songs make up for the sense that co-writers Nicolas Stoller and director James Bobin (picking up the pen/laptop in Segel's absence) have more amusing bits than fresh ideas to offer. From the department of goofy accents come Tina Fey as a Russian prison guard who wants Kermit to direct the gulag play (inmates include Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo) and Ty Burrell as an Interpol agent unhappily working with CIA operative Sam the Eagle.
The Muppets can make even a leftover lesson about teamwork into a sweet endorsement of family. Still, it would've been funny to learn who, with Constantine in the top spot, is the second-most dangerous frog in the world, and I wish "MMW" wasn't another chance for a female character (in this case, Piggy) to pressure her man (Kermit) into a firmer commitment. This is what separates a movie that merely elevates your thumb and one that causes you to flail your arms and run around screaming, "Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!"
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