The consistency of Muppet lore stretches with the idea of the life and times of these characters as a kind of in-joke to the themes of the entertainment industry but with a distinctive off-kilter twist. In bringing back the humor to the notion of the early 80s where both kids and adults could enjoy the films shows a similarity to Pixar in many ways. One has to have enough reverence for the material but also be willing to break a couple rules.
Some things fall short and others feel dated in this update but for the most part, despite the odds stacked against it, the new “Muppets” movie delivers on its promise though it does so by using alot of narrative short-cuts but openly displays them as plot devices.
What has caused The Muppets to regains its popularity, mostly through You Tube, is its penchance to be able to speak on pop culture and satirize it, most specifically movies and music which are currently in the consciousness. That is what made “The Muppet Show” great because it had the ability to do that with the actual stars of the day. While certain elements of that are explored in the new movie, it is a woefully missing element overall which can only be done in a TV show setting like Henson had in the late 70s. Unfortunately, that kind of creative freedom is extinct on TV.
That said, using the old studio system structure of a movie exploring the backstage of putting a show together was a smart move by writer/star Jason Segel as was the introduction of a external Muppet character in the form of his brother which really offers an eye into this idea. This character just wants to go to Hollywood to find The Muppets who were the stalwart and love of his childhood.
Granted the musical sequences are beyond corny but there is, at times, a distinct charm to them especially during a twin sequence that looks like a twisted version of “Ebony & Ivory”. While there are not a whole lot of cameos, the two that count, in the form of Jack Black and Zach Galifinakis, go a long way. The importance of Hobo Joe in the film cannot be overstated.
When the curtain goes up and the widescreen element of the actual opening credits of “The Muppet Show” are recreated as they were for this generation, it is immensely gratifying, helped by the fact that this screening itself was held at the El Capitan Theater which was what was used as the facade for the actual Muppet Theater in the movie.
Segel and Company deserve praise for being able to jump start back the elements of yesteryear and then back away to let the Muppets shine. While certain ones only get a bit of play, others (like Animal and Beeker) need to blow it out a bit more. The balance however gives the movie a distinctly nostalgic field while retaining a contemporary glow.
The necessity of “I Love You Man”, which I did not see during its theatrical run, is that it takes an uncomfortable subject and literally makes it more uncomfortable. Now this is done in no way in part to the presence of Paul Rudd, who has become the unlikely anti-hero of the Judd Apatow sect. Now granted Seth Rogen has the underdog situation down pat but he has a brother-in-arms in the form of Jason Segel who takes on a much more engaging role than his feature starring debut in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. The essence of the story revolves around the fact that Rudd’s character is getting married to a girl whom he seems good with but the odd thing is that he doesn’t have any guy friends. He has always related more to women. Now while usually when this happens, it simply speaks to a simple emotional situation of being only able to relate to one person at a time (the ability not to multi-task if you will), here it is played for laughs in the texture that Rudd’s character goes on “Man Dates” to find some guy friends.
All sorts of shenanigans ensue (including many involving Lou Ferrigno) but ultimately things work out nice and soft after much carnage including lewd billboards of Rudd’s real estate character. The comedy is brisk but is never as funny as it thinks it is. The girls in “Spring Breakdown” (in terms of a recent comparison) went much more out on a limb. But the key here is that the filmmakers are also trying to appeal to a female audience which this picture definitely admits to.
The commentary by Rudd, Segel and director John Hamburg is self reflexive in its ability even pointing to the fact that Rudd gave everyone gifts on set but Segel didn’t give him one back until months later. It was a good one though: a signed bass from rock band Rush who figures prominently into the movie’s storyline. As the commentary continues, the aspect of what their humor is actually becomes self effacing which at times sort of throws off the aspect of whether the comedy elements are thought out or even funny in the first place. The aspect of not being able to stop laughing when shooting does happen as the extra improvs later in the disc show. This team however seem to have played these element out to the point of beating a dead horse. However they seem to understand that the movie that they are making needs to be loose but still have its heart focused.
“The Making Of I Love You Man” paints in this direction as well. The self effacing humor plays through everyone, even J.K. Simmons who gets into a little bashing. Jon Favreau is the best because he is playing Mr. Big Shot which is not him in person truly. His fellow actors play up the whole “Iron Man” thing but Fav still plays his angle. In the Extras section with all the improv, it is actually his and Jamie Pressly’s pieces that are fun to watch because they are so cruel. He outpowers her to a point at which she just goes quiet and almost starts laughing. It is interesting.
Paul Rudd’s two improv heavy scenes: on the phone in the office and in bed with his fiance show the amount of different permeations the guy goes through when the thinking is steady. But it is the Vespa riding sequence, especially with the “Facts Of Life” theme song, that goes a little long. In terms of extended and deleted scenes, the “ladies night” piece gets in a tad more with how graphic the girls get but by comparison the Johnny Depp elements at the wedding go on way too long. The deleted scenes don’t really add anything to the mix although the groomsmen photos are amusing. However it slows down the story.
The red band trailer adds some bits and lets the “fucks” fly but it is Jon Favreau’s last line that isn’t in the movie that has the most punch. The gag reel is usually used for the wrap party and highlights the fact that Paul Rudd finds himself funny sometimes more than anyone else and likes to laugh although the rubbing scene in Segel’s apartment set is a little much. But that is the movie through and through. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.