It's time for a Muppets sequel; so round up some straight men.
OK, we got Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy (pronounced, he insists, the French way, bad-GEE).
Then there's Tina Fey as Siberian gulag warden Nadya, a closet Broadway musicals lover who has the hots for Kermit the Frog.
How about “Modern Family's” Ty Burrell as silly French detective Jean Pierre Napoleon? (Is there any other kind of French detective since Inspector Clouseau?)
And just to be safe, let's throw in Ray Liotta, Jemaine Clement, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, Celine Dion, Christoph Waltz, Tom Hiddleston and a few more big-name celebs we won't tell you about.
As for a plot, that was the real question.
The beloved franchise had been rebooted in 2011 with “The Muppets,” starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams in a story about getting the old gang back together — Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal and Gonzo, along with a new character named Walter.
Up until then, Walt Disney Studios, which had owned the Muppets since 2004, wasn't sure to do with them. Then Segel — fresh off the success of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — pitched the idea for the film and co-wrote the script with “Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller. “The Muppets” was directed by James Bobin, co-creator of HBO's satirical musical-comedy sitcom “Flight of the Conchords.”
It grossed around $88 million at the box office, and Bret McKenzie, the “Conchords” actor-musician who wrote the tunes for the film, won an Oscar for the song “Man or Muppet.”
The film's success left everybody wondering what to do for a follow-up, which is exactly where the new movie, “Muppets Most Wanted,” opening today, picks up. The Muppets, along with the human stars, were in Beverly Hills last week to promote the film.
“We wanted to have the movie start with the same problem we had,” says Bobin, who wrote the “Most Wanted” script with Stoller. To get started, they had McKenzie write a song called “They've Ordered a Sequel” with the line “Muppets Again,” the original working title.
“Then the marketing department changed the title,” wryly notes the composer, who wrote most of the tunes in the new film. When that happened, they tried to substitute “It's the Muppets Most W-a-a-a-nted” into the song. McKenzie sings to demonstrate, but it obviously didn't work.
Created by Jim Henson, who died in 1990, the Muppets have long been known for their parodies, even when they first appeared on PBS' “Sesame Street” in 1969.
“We saw this as a chance to go wilder,” says “Most Wanted” producer Todd Lieberman.
So the filmmakers turned to two well-known movie devices. Long a fan of movies like “The Pink Panther,” Bobin wanted to make it a fun caper movie, and then added the old mistaken-identity trope.
In “Most Wanted,” it turns out that Kermit has an evil doppelganger named Constantine, imprisoned in a Serbian gulag. The only difference between them is a small mole that the criminal mastermind has. He even sounds like a Soviet über-bad guy from the Cold War.
Gervais' Badguy, posing as a theatrical manager, persuades the Muppets to go on an international tour. There's an escape, a switch and soon Kermit finds himself in the gulag with tough guys Liotta, Clement (the other half of the “Flight of the Conchords” duo) and Trejo — playing, naturally, Danny Trejo — under the watchful and occasionally lustful eye of Fey's Nadya.
Meanwhile, using green makeup to cover the mole, Constantine poses as Kermit, and — despite the accent — nobody seems to notice. As the Muppets barnstorm Europe, he and Badguy pull heists in pursuit of long-lost treasure.
Once upon a time, entertainment trade papers would trumpet the success of something with the term that it “has legs.” Well, the Muppets do have legs in the movies, thanks to CGI.
This allows the Muppets to take part in a lot of song-and-dance numbers in the film. None, however, may top the indescribable vision of Liotta, Clement, Trejo and the other convicts putting their all into “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line.”
Bad guys Gervais and Constantine get to do their own nifty steps in McKenzie's “My Name First ___ Your Name.”
The comedian and creator of “The Office” says the singing didn't worry him — “I'm a secret pop star” — but the dancing did a bit.
“I don't move well, but it doesn't matter,” Gervais says. “I'm with a frog.”
Ever the wit, Gervais wondered what an offspring from Kermit and Miss Piggy might look like.
“An abomination?” injects Fey.
“We actually haven't consummated the experiment,” Kermit admits soberly. (Of course, we know that today, as ever, there is someone working the puppets while making those jokes.)
“I never realized how overrated I was until you go out and do a scene with somebody who is doing eight things at once,” Burrell says in admiration for the puppeteers. “All I had to do was remember my words, and I failed miserably.”
As in any Muppets film, “Most Wanted” is aimed as much at adults as children, combining silliness with a sense of the absurd. Some of the humor may seem more for parents, but Fey, who cracks “as of this morning, I had two kids,” says children “take pride in getting the jokes.”
One subplot in the film about paying off critics brings the only somewhat serious moment to the day when Gervais is asked if he is concerned about good reviews for “Most Wanted.”
“If you're worried about pleasing people it will drive you mad,” he says. “Now with Facebook, everyone's a journalist. Everyone's a critic. It's like glorified graffiti. If you care about that, you might as well go around to every toilet wall in the world and get offended when they mention you.
“Now, having said just that,” he adds, “say nice (expletive) things about me.”
Follow Rob Lowman on Twitter: @roblowman1