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Dan's Review: Unfunny "Happytime Murders" kills innocence

Aug 25, 2018 12:46PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Melissa McCarthy and Bill Barretta in The Happytime Murders - © 2018 STX Entertainment.

The Happytime Murders (STX Entertainment)

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material.

Starring Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta (voice), Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie David Baker, Dorien Davies (voice), Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Gaul, Mitch Silpa, Cynthy Wu, Michael McDonald, Hemky Madera, Ben Falcone, Fortune Feimster,  (voices of) Kevin Clash, Drew Massey, Ted Michaels, Colleen Smith, Alice Dinnean, Donna Kimball, Brian Henson, Allan Trautman, Victor Yerrid.

Written by Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson.

Directed by Brian Henson.

GRADE: D+

REVIEW:

For most adults, it used to be that even though we all grew up and eventually lost most of our innocence, we could always rely on the childhood characters of our youth to draw us back to simpler times. Brian Henson, the son of the late Jim Henson (creator of the Muppets) is doing all he can to burn those bridges to our innocent youth with his latest film The Happytime Murders, the story of puppets behaving very badly on the mean streets of L.A.

The premise follows the idea that the puppets who appear on children’s shows are actually living beings instead of mere fabric apparatus operated by humans. The puppets coexist as second-class citizens, unable to advance beyond anything except entertainers. The “Happytime Gang” show children’s program is in syndication since its heyday in decades prior. All the puppet stars have moved on to varying outcomes, most of them on the seedier side of life. When the washed-up stars begin to be murdered, Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Baretta), a puppet and private investigator gets involved, especially since one of the dead stars in his brother. Phil’s secretary at the P.I. office is Bubbles (Maya Rudolph), who carries a flame for her boss. Assigned to the case is Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), Phil’s former partner when he was the only puppet to work as an L.A. cop before a tragic incident involving the death of an innocent bystander (and puppet). Connie’s boss signs Phil back on as a consultant, and the old partners are back together again. Their investigation leads to all kinds of sleazy establishments and back alleys where puppets engage in all sorts of vices. Connie herself joins in at times, able to ingest the puppet drug of choice (sugar) to get a buzz on. She is able to do so since receiving a puppet liver transplant after being injured in the tragic incident that led to Phil’s ouster from the police force. The investigation eventually leads to Phil’s old flame Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), the only human member of the Happytime Gang who has fallen on hard times as a stripper. Meanwhile, one of Phil’s clients, a mystery puppet woman with an appetite for sex carries another dark secret that could lead to solving the case.

The Happytime Murders is a messy pile of felt, cotton, body fluids and poor writing that relies heavily on obscenity and shock value. Seeing what basically amounts to the Muppets wallowing in the worst vices loses its novelty by the time you see “puppet porn” involving the milking of a puppet cow. McCarthy has a few funny moments, but nothing we haven’t seen from her already. She’s tailor-made for such humor and The Happytime Murders simply reinforces her appeal to folks who like her raunchy style. I would really like to see her in something a little more cerebral because I think she has real talent and more than the ability to crack one-liners about her anatomy.   

In the end, The Happytime Murders is something akin to a really bad episode of any TV cop drama from the 1980s or any number of forgettable “cop buddy” movies, only with a lot of really obscene humor performed by puppets. The humor (for me) is gauged by the number of groans I had over the laughs (hint: groans win by a large margin).

I don’t know if we’ll ever see another Muppet movie since Brian Henson seems to have moved beyond childish things and into full vulgarity. The Happytime Murders is a risky move for the man who has been entrusted with a legacy that has been a part of growing up for two generations. I don’t know if the Jim Henson Company will be able to bounce back from this debacle, and not only because of its departure from family fare. The Happytime Murders is a really bad film even if the Muppets never existed.


The Happytime Murders (somewhat) clean trailer

Arts+Entertainment movies movie reviews Crime Comedy Puppetry

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