Half of "Muppets Most Wanted" is a prison movie, like "The Great Escape" or "Toy Story 3." The other half is a caper movie, like "Rififi," the 1955 crime classic whose title even sounds like the name of a Muppet. And somehow, these interweaving halves mesh funnily enough that this sequel to 2011's "The Muppets" seems a rightful heir to the studiedly wacky 1976-81 TV series "The Muppet Show." If there's anyone here who doesn't like a mélange of puns, slapstick, meta humor, the occasional out-of-left-field intellectual joke (it's not the first time the Muppets have mined Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal") and repurposed vaudeville routines, then fine. More room for the rest of us.
Following a self-aware opening in which the Muppets realize they need to make a sequel and now must choose what kind, the movie introduces the bad guy, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). He's just a henchman, however, for Constantine, the most dangerous frog in the world, a Kermit doppelganger who's escaped a Siberian gulag. Before you can say "Pigs in Space," Kermit's in prison, Dominic is managing a Muppet Show tour of Europe and institutions next door to their venues are getting broken into and robbed despite suspicions from an Interpol investigator (Ty Burrell) and a CIA operative (Sam the Eagle).
Kermit has his own hands -- well, webbed feet -- full trying to cope with prison life. Fortunately, guard Nadya (Tina Fey) has ordered him to direct the annual gulag musical revue. And you haven't lived until you've seen Ray Liotta of "GoodFellas," Danny Trejo of "Machete" and assorted other tough guys doing "I Hope I Get It" from "A Chorus Line."
All that and a rainbow collection of cameos make for safely anarchic fun. The songs unfortunately are undistinguished and Burrell's too-exaggerated French accent lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. So while it may not be sensational, it's still an inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational Muppet show.
Preceding it is Pixar's "Party Central," starring the "Monsters University" duo of Sulley and Mike (voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal). It starts with a simple plot idea and escalates in classic comedy form.
PLOT The Muppets tour Europe, but with Kermit's criminal look-alike.
RATING PG (mild action sequences)
CAST The Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey
BOTTOM LINE If you liked "The Muppet Show," you'll like this Muppet show.