Reel Critics: 'Muppets' wants an older crowd

When it comes to family-friendly entertainment, the Muppets are one of the most successful franchises ever created. Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are on the celebrity A-list of many parents and their kids. Disney's "Muppets Most Wanted" is an elaborate effort to create a multilevel comedy that appeals to all ages.

It starts as an old-fashioned musical with vaudeville overtones. Kermit is arrested on flimsy pretenses because he looks like a criminal frog mastermind from Russia. The story then turns into a slapstick mistaken-identity farce.

Tina Fey generates most of the laughs with her caustic portrayal of a Siberian prison guard watching over the jailed Kermit. Ricky Gervais plays the devious accomplice to Kermit's imposter. Of course, family values of love, loyalty and honor seep into the developments.

But the screenplay takes almost two hours to tell the complex tale. The many cultural and social references will amuse adults. But I saw this movie in a theater full of young children, and there was very little laughter from any of them throughout the screening. The producers may have aimed too high to please the grown-ups while forgetting to entertain the kids.

—John Depko


'Divergent' diverges, a little

Webster defines divergent as "differing from each other or from a standard." I don't know that "Divergent" the movie is any different from "The Hunger Games" — but both are set in a dystopian future and revolve around an appealing female lead, and both are entertaining.

As a nice scenery change, the story takes place in Chicago, where the river has dried up but the Sears Tower is still standing. Society is now split into five factions, and at a certain age, all teens are tested as to which faction they're best suited for. They also have the option to choose for themselves, but that choice is binding for life.

Beatrice (thoughtful Shailene Woodley from "The Descendants") was raised in the Abnegation faction: do-gooders dressed in medieval-looking grays who are also leaders. Yet she's always been drawn toward the Dauntless — they are the protectors of the city and love to parkour in trendy tats and black pleather.

Beatrice chooses to join them, to her parents' disappointment, and changes her name to Tris. Much of the film follows her indoctrination and training, and Tris gets our sympathy for being something of a wuss. But she does get the attention of the swoony trainer Four (Theo James) and also a haughty Erudite faction leader (well played by Kate Winslet).

"Divergent" is not as lethal or flashy as the "Hunger Games" or "Harry Potter" films, but its familiar themes of learning who you are and how you fit in are well served here by the appealing cast. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will take us on a more divergent path of originality.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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