Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Muppets From Space

By Marc Savlov

JULY 26, 1999: 

D: Tim Hill; with Jeffrey Tambor, F. Murray Abraham, David Arquette, Josh Charles, Kathy Griffin, Pat Hingle, Hollywood Hogan, Ray Liotta, Andy MacDowell, Rob Schneider, the voices of Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta. (G, 82 min.)

I'm sorry, but when did the Muppets get da funk? With a soundtrack featuring the likes of James Brown, the Commodores, George Clinton and P-Funk, and Earth Wind and Fire, I kept expecting a Bootsy Collins-inspired Muppet to leap out and waggle its furry tongue at me, but sadly such was not the case. Instead we have a fairly uninspired, albeit entertaining, Muppet movie that falls short of the original outing from Jim Henson's creature shop while still managing to bring in a few lesser chuckles. Despite the title, this is less a sci-fi parody than a search for the meaning of life as seen through the eyes of Gonzo (Goelz), who, in the prologue, is seen screaming awake from a nightmare in which Noah (Abraham) refuses to let him board the ark because he can't figure out his species. That's the crux of this furry, oddball outing: Gonzo's lineage.With his hooked proboscis and off-blue body, Gonzo's the one Muppet who has consistently confounded viewers young and old - apparently the riddle has also tormented the Muppets' creators as well. When Gonzo starts receiving messages in his breakfast cereal (I swear I'm not making this up), he becomes convinced that he's descended from alien beings, and promptly embarks on a mission to bring them back. Of course, messages in your breakfast are apt to draw the attention of the authorities, in this case those of the mysterious Mr. Singer (Tambor), a high-level government spook intent on catching the visitors before Gonzo can make contact. Also along for this admittedly bumpy ride are Schneider and MacDowell as a conniving television producer and a vacuous talking head who recruit Miss Piggy to break the story of the aliens to the masses. Half the fun of the Muppet films is spotting the star cameos that pop up in every other scene. Arquette turns in a scenery-devouring performance worthy of his 1-800-Collect adverts, Liotta appears as a bumbling security guard, and even Katie Holmes appears in an uncredited walk-on as her character from Dawson's Creek. So is it fun for the whole family? Yes and no. The gaggle of kids I noticed during the screening seemed to be having a ball, laughing at the woefully bad puns (of which there are many) while an occasional adult chortle resounded whenever a cameo would flit by (of which there are also many). It's the Muppets, folks, not the Feebles, so expectations should be kept to a minimum. Fans of the old series will enjoy this outing, I think, though it lacks the chaotic, near-subversive spirit of that show. Still, where else can you see Miss Piggy manhandle some poor schmuck's family jewels this summer? (And why would you want to?)

2 Stars


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