Month: December 2018

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Many a film, television show, and book has been deemed “great,” and some have even earned that qualifier. My greatest of the greats would include Great Expectations, The Great Train Robbery (2013), Great Performances, The Great British Bake-Off, of course. The Great Muppet Caper? Not so great. Plain old Muppet Caper would have sufficed because while this is a pleasant film, it’s never as zany or clever or joyful as my favorite Muppet adventure, The Muppets. No qualifier needed.

Instead, the movie is like a TV special for kids who just want a silly heist or those who still get the nearly forty-year-old pop culture references. It’s a fun romp and keeps your attention with plenty of songs and scene changes, but the story moves almost too quickly. In making sure the caper ticks along, the writers seem to have forgotten the heart of the Muppet franchise – its characters.

When twins Kermit and Fozzie and their friend Gonzo, all journalists at The Daily Chronicle, fail to report on a major jewel theft, they try to save their jobs by going directly to London to investigate. However, Kermit mistakes receptionist Miss Piggy for the victim, designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg), and doesn’t realize what he’s done until after they’ve gone on a date and she is framed for a second theft. The reporters, along with their new Muppet friends at the Happiness Hotel, must thwart a third heist of the Fabulous Baseball Diamond at Mallory Gallery in order to save Miss Piggy from prison.

The city adds some visual flair, and Kermit and the gang take a memorable bike ride through Battersea Park. I would have liked to have seen more of London, a complement to the otherwise boxed-in set pieces. The movie features a few jazzier numbers that harken back to studio classics, several of which include Miss Piggy. Besides starring in her own Esther Williams water fantasia, she gets to sing and dance her little piggy heart out with a chorus line of men in tails and top hats. The songs, however, are not particularly memorable.

It’s easier to forgive bland songwriting than it is scriptwriting, and the Muppets are in need of personality. Sure, they are cute and clever and take every opportunity to break the fourth wall, but I felt like most of the Muppets could have been easily swapped out with any similarly furry, kid-friendly franchise, The Great Paw Patrol Caper, perhaps. Okay, maybe not, but among the non-humans, only Kermit and Miss Piggy really come into their own. Kermit’s eagerness to do good and Miss Piggy’s vanity and insecurity make it easier than ever to identify with a frog and an oinker, but the others seem to be there to serve up jokes and plot points. Having seen just two Muppet movies, and thereby forfeiting my 80s-kid card, I thought Caper hewed closer to the lackluster Muppets Most Wanted, a tightly plotted film but one that sprints by on cameos.

“Hey a Movie!” by Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo:

“Happiness Hotel” by the Muppets:

“Steppin’ Out with a Star” by Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo:

“Night Life” by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem:

“The First Time It Happens” by Kermit and Miss Piggy:

“Couldn’t We Ride” by the Muppets:

“Piggy’s Fantasy”:

“Finale: Hey a Movie!” by the Muppets:

Released: 1981
Prod: David Lazer, Frank Oz
Dir: Jim Henson
Writer: Jerry Juhl, Tom Pachett, Jack Rose, Jay Tarses
Cast: Diana Rigg, Charles Grodin, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

Holiday Wishes (2006)

When it comes to body switch movies, there are far better choices than Holiday Wishes, an overplotted story about two teens who swap places and the random adult who somehow gets involved. A few emotional moments and fair performances from the young actors save it from being totally forgotten though. The key is figuring out how Danni (Amber Benson) fits into the picture. I couldn’t initially because real life comes before Lifetime and was punished by having to watch it a second time.

Danni, it turns out, is a party planner and not one of the teens. In my defense, Benson looks like teenage Michelle Trachtenberg, and I didn’t know if Trachtenberg was actually in the film and I was seeing double. (She is not; I was not.) She’s also an orphan and has spent the better part of her adult life and savings searching for her younger sister. Now that the private investigator she’s hired is following up on leads, she’s more confident than ever that she’ll be reunited with her only family member this Christmas.

But there’s still a party to plan, and Danni’s getting ready for an important holiday gathering at the King home. Kelly King (Gwynyth Walsh) hopes to land a major account for a young girls’ clothing line, and a successful party featuring a speech by her daughter could clinch the deal. Teenager Britney (Britt McKillip) is not going to parrot some platitudes about perfect family relationships without getting something in return though, like her parents’ credit cards. That’s because she’s spoiled and selfish but also because she doesn’t have a great relationship with her absent parents. She compensates with shopping sprees and by acting queen bee at school.

It’s at the school’s winter dance that Britney bumps into Rachel (Katie Keating), but not before humiliating her. Rachel, a foster kid whose latest guardians are the Bradleys, is less than thrilled with her situation, and who can blame her because social worker Claudia (Donna Yamamoto) totally dropped the ball and placed her in a home where she’s abused by her foster siblings. This is unacceptable and why she wishes for some real damn parents, ones who will give her the love she needs.

Rachel gets that chance when she and Britney cross paths, wish upon a metal star, and wake up in each other’s bodies. After a brief freak-out, they try to switch back but without luck. Britney is stuck in Walmart clothes, by her account, and Rachel gets a designer wardrobe along with the parents she’s always wanted. Danni, meanwhile, finds herself drawn into this mess because she was chaperoning Britney at the dance and because she overhears the girls’ frantic conversation. Since none of the other adults seem to have a handle on parenting, she offers to help.

You could excise Danni from the story and still have a serviceable Christmas body switch film. I like the triangle of support that the three young women give each other though. Britney and Rachel start off as stereotypes, but there’s an effort to dig into their characters. Both find themselves having to stand up for who they are even though they kind of are not. In doing so, they gain confidence and learn to rely on each other while Danni shepherds them through their conflict.

If this was all the movie was about, that would be enough. There are too many pieces to this story though. Danni’s subplot about her sister is moving and helps her connect with Rachel, but it forces its way into the narrative. It’s too weighty to be brushed aside as often as it is. Danni’s ex-boyfriend, Jeremiah (Tygh Runyan), likewise intrudes unexpectedly. He’s a calm counterweight to everything else that’s going on, but he deserves a fuller presence. Often there’s a disconnect between the characters, as if each is appearing in a scene just to serve a function before retreating back into his or her own little world.

Released: 2006
Dir: David Weaver
Writer: Peter Mohan
Cast: Amber Benson, Tygh Runyan, Britt McKillip, Katie Keating, Gwynyth Walsh, Barclay Hope, Patricia Drake, Michael Rogers, Donna Yamamoto, Sam Bradley, Magda Apanowicz
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2018

Finding Mrs. Claus (2012)

It’s been a long two months of Christmas TV in my house, and I’ve reached the point where I’m totally nonplussed by the thought of Mrs. Claus running around Las Vegas, beardless Santa in pursuit. If that’s what’s going to make a story work, fine; I’ll buy whatever needs selling. I’m certainly into the cast, which includes Mira Sorvino, Will Sasso, Laura Vandervoort, and Andrew Walker. They are troopers considering some of the humiliation they’re put through. Sorvino, as the naïve Jessica Claus, finds herself telling a room full of horny men to hang on to their candy canes because subtlety is not welcome. If Lifetime wanted to make another kind of Christmas movie, the actor might also be tipped as serial killer Mrs. Claus with her squeaky voice and creepy prosthetics. Walker, in another realm of embarrassment, has to wear the world’s ugliest cow shirt like he’s lost a bet with all of wardrobe. The four actors nevertheless do their part to lift an often amusing but uneven script, which juggles two romances instead of one.

Sorvino has the most actorly role and is not the usual retiring Mrs. Claus, cheerfully holding down the fort while her man is away. At least, she isn’t after Santa (Sasso) falls asleep during their 500th wedding anniversary. Feeling unloved and underappreciated, she convinces Calvin the Elf (Geoff Gufstafson) to take her to Las Vegas where she can be of some use and help a girl find a partner for her mother. A sprinkling of Magic Dust™ transforms her into the young Jessica Clabuffet, but she’s not wise to the ways, or the language, of humans, making it a challenge to walk in heels and talk to people.

Her husband doesn’t fare much better. You’d think Santa would be more familiar with southern manners, but he is just as awkward. When he realizes Jessica is missing, he heads straight for Las Vegas with Calvin, not caring if that puts Christmas in jeopardy. He’s not prepared, however, to fully embrace his disguise and is mistaken for a high stakes gambler, leading to one unfortunate but very funny incident involving venison meatballs. Sasso is a bumbling, not-so-jolly Santa, but that’s also what makes him kind of sweet. The guy just wants to find his wife, and that’s a side to him that we don’t often see. The Claus’ relationship could use more dramatic tension though. Their main problem is reconnecting with one another, but their prolonged separation is arbitrary and lacks urgency. I’d expect Santa to be a little more resourceful here instead of flailing about without a plan.

In contrast, the romance between concierge Noelle (Vandervoort) and honky tonk bartender Myles (Walker) is nice and steamy. It’s also pretty typical as far as these things go, but the actors’ chemistry makes it worth your while. The two work together and like to say they are just friends even though they seem to know everything about each other. Noelle has Myles pegged as a ladies’ man but one with whom she’d trust her daughter, Hope (Aislyn Watson). For his part, Myles uses Noelle’s raspberry allergy to rescue her from a situation and calls her out for wearing a fake engagement ring to avoid commitment. It took me seconds to fall for both, and they were more than enough to distract from the zaniness of finding Mrs. Claus.

Released: 2012
Dir: Mark Jean
Writer: Andrea Seybold, Kate Wharton, Andrea Stevens
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Will Sasso, Laura Vandervoort, Andrew Walker, Aislyn Watson, Meg Roe, Geoff Gustafson, Adam Greydon Reid
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2018