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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Jan. 25 

Page 5 of 9

THE MUPPETS Yes, it may be true that The Muppets is a film for the whole family, but here's a cruel suggestion: Hire a babysitter and leave the kids at home. After all, what grownup weaned on a steady diet of Muppet episodes and movies wants to interrupt their jaunt down memory lane by having to escort weak bladders to the bathroom or hungry mouths to the concession stand? Jason Segel, a self-proclaimed Muppet devotee who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, plays Gary, who takes his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and his equally Muppet-obsessed brother Walter — who, incidentally, happens to be a puppet himself — to Los Angeles for vacation. When they stop at the old Muppet studio, they're shocked to see it dilapidated and abandoned; they're even more upset when they discover that ruthless businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to buy the property, tear down the studio and drill for oil. In an effort to save the hallowed ground, the trio head off to find Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of the gang. On the down time, Walter's pretty much a drip, both as a character and a Muppet, and instead of even creating him in the first place (when you think about it, he's not really necessary to the overall arc), I would rather Segel and Stoller had spent more time on the already established puppet personalities. And the cameos, by and large, are a disappointing lot. 1979's The Muppet Movie gave us comedy titans like Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Bob Hope and Madeline Kahn; this film can only counter with Ken Jeong, Zach Galifianakis, John Krasinski and Selena Gomez. Running the risk of sounding like Statler and Waldorf, though, I had best stop with the naysaying. At any rate, the majority of the film is pure pleasure, full of knowing winks to the franchise's time and place in history: the bouncy "Mahna Mahna"; Kermit's celebrity Rolodex, long outdated ("May I speak to President Carter?"); the lovely "The Rainbow Connection" (just try and not tear up during that moment); and the creation of '80s Robot, whose computer-related gag provided me with the biggest laugh I've enjoyed in a theater this year. ***1/2

NEW YEAR'S EVE This waste of energy proves to be even tougher to take than director Garry Marshall's previous all-star holiday romp, Valentine's Day. As in that film, numerous familar faces take part in superficial vignettes all centered around the title holiday. Although it squanders any intriguing potential for a May-December romance, the storyline in which a cocky messenger boy (Zac Efron) helps a depressed woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) fulfill her New Year's resolutions is the best episode primarily thanks to Pfeiffer, the only person in this entire film investing any genuine emotion into her character. At the other end of the spectrum is the thread in which two pregnant women (Jessica Biel and Sarah Paulson) and their husbands (Seth Meyers and Til Schweiger) are eager to win the sizable cash prize given by a local hospital to the couple who produces the first baby of the new year; this is the most godawful of all the segments, and not just because someone yells out, "May the best vajayjay win!" Among the other less-than-scintillating tales are a real snoozer in which a sympathetic nurse (slumming Oscar winner Halle Berry) tends to a dying man (slumming Oscar winner Robert De Niro) whose only wish is to see the ball drop; the dramatically inert episode about a glitch in the Times Square ball, made watchable only by the likable turns by Hilary Swank, Hector Elizondo and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges; a piece in which a slacker (perpetually annoying Ashton Kutcher) who hates the holiday is trapped in an elevator with a singer (Lea Michele) desperate to escape; and a piece in which a caterer (perpetually annoying Katherine Heigl) is angry at the boyfriend (Jon Bon Jovi) who ran away from her a year ago but has now reentered her life. I can hardly wait for Marshall's Arbor Day. *1/2

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