March 12, 2016
Muppets from Space (1999)
Grade: 51/100

Director: Tim Hill
Stars: Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Frank Oz

What it's about. Gonzo the Muppet is depressed. He doesn't have any family. He doesn't even know what species he is. Noah won't let him on the ark. He does have friends, notably his smart-aleck roommate Rizzo the Rat, but he nonetheless feels alone, even though he lives in a house crowded with fellow Muppets.

But it is a movie, therefore, he is contacted by unseen aliens, who communicate with him via breakfast cereal and a sandwich, which confirms the maxim, the way to a Gonzo's heart is through his stomach. (Actually, that is the key to a dog's heart, but I digress.)

Gonzo's quest to meet these aliens, who have yet to land on Earth, makes him a national celebrity, especially among the tin foil hat crowd. This brings him to the attention of Jeffrey Tambor, a strange man who apparently heads the local chapter of a Federal agency in charge of discovering alien life forms on Earth.

Tambor kidnaps Gonzo, and the other Muppets, consensus-led as always by Kermit, come to his rescue. All gather at Cape Doom (apparently a Pacific beach in California) to witness the landing of the alien spacecraft, as prophesized to Gonzo by his talking sandwich.

Famous actors with minor roles or cameos include F. Murray Abraham, Rob Schneider, Ray Liotta, David Arquette, Andie MacDowell, Pat Hingle, Hulk Hogan, and Katie Holmes.

How others will see it. Muppets from Space was a box office disappointment, and 12 years would pass before the next theatrical feature reboot of the franchise (2011's The Muppets.) The movie was essentially ignored by film festivals, despite the Disney marketing muscle.

The film's target audience is children (admittedly, of all ages) but at, those under 18 grade it a so-so 6.6 out of 10. The grades decline gradually with advancing age of the viewer, down to 6.0 among those over 45. I was not surprised to learn that some criticize the film for its lame plot.

But I was surprised to learn that the biggest criticism of the movie came from parents, who believed that the movie could upset small children. For example, Noah leaves Gonzo to drown, alone on Earth; Gonzo is to undergo surgery to suck out his brain; and Rizzo becomes a lab rat at the mercy of a sadistic tech.

Said mothers also complain about featuring "Brick House", a song about men ogling a young woman with large breasts. But most seem to enjoy the retro 1970s funk soundtrack. Certainly, I did.

How I felt about it. There are several entertaining moments during this movie. I liked:

One has to admit, the movie has its moments. But like most comedies, Muppets from Space has to be funny practically all of the time in order to become a really good movie. And it can't cross that bar. It is amusing often enough to watch without discomfort. And that is the best that can be said about it.

If one compares Muppets from Space with the preceding Muppet/Disney feature-length theatrical film, Muppet Treasure Island, the former falls short. One reason is Tim Curry, who is more credible as Long John Silver than Jeffrey Tambor is as a lunatic Federal government agent. Not that Tambor does a bad job, it's just that his material and character aren't good enough.

The best reason, though, why Muppet Treasure Island was better was because it had a more structured plot, loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic novel. Muppets from Space instead is derivative of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, without the benefit of Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, or Steven Spielberg's direction. Instead we have an excess of infrequently inspired silliness.