UK Release Date: 27th August 2018
Runtime: 91 minutes
Director: Brian Henson
Writer: Todd Berger
Starring: Bill Barretta, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Dorien Davies
Synopsis: A disgraced puppet detective reteams with his human former policing partner to investigate a spate of puppet killings.
Have you ever heard a puppet say fuck? Have you ever seen a puppet get shot in the head? Have you ever seen a puppet have sex? The Happytime Murders is banking on the fact that you haven’t, which means it only stands a chance at working for people who have never seen Team America: World Police, Meet the Feebles or the excellent musical Avenue Q. Even for those people, though, this movie is a pretty exhausting and depressing watch. Worse still, the man behind the camera is Brian Henson – son of Muppet creator Jim. Of all people, he should know better.
The movie is set in a world in which humans and puppets live together, though there are some hints that this is a society in which puppets are treated as second class citizens. A better film would have got some mileage out of this racism allegory, but The Happytime Murders sees that as a rather unnecessary blip in among the gags about purple pubic hair and silly string ejaculate. The plot, such as there is one, follows a puppet private detective called Phil Phillips – I assume the name’s meant to be a gag, but who knows? – played by experienced puppeteer Bill Barretta.
He is visited at his office by a Jessica Rabbit-esque puppet who wants him to investigate blackmail against her, which leads him to a spate of murders being perpetrated against the cast of classic puppet show The Happytime Gang – a show led by its sole human (Elizabeth Banks). This means he must reluctantly work with human cop Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), who used to be his full-time policing partner, before she got him and all other puppets kicked off the force.
It’s an exhausting watch in just about every way. The comedy is less focused on gags than it is on characters telling each other to “fuck off” for 90 minutes, with the high point presumably intended to be the moment in which a set of ornamental balls on a desk produces three punchlines within the same scene. The script from Todd Berger is consistently in search of something outrageous and offensive, but there’s something simply sad and dull about its vague attempts at pushing boundaries.
Melissa McCarthy is forced to carry much of the narrative weight while her fuzzy co-stars do most of the comedic heavy lifting. It’s yet another example of her comic talent being wasted, as she mostly just stands around shrieking and wanders off for a bizarre sub-plot about her destructive addiction to sugar. The other human characters are largely relegated to one-note single jokes, with the notable exception of Maya Rudolph, who is working admirably hard in an attempt to rescue at least the scenes in which she appears. Despite a valiant effort, she fails pretty miserably.
It’s tough to work out who the audience is supposed to be for The Happytime Murders. The puppet nostalgia doesn’t exist for the teen crowd who will find the dick jokes and neon-coloured urine funny and that aforementioned urine isn’t that funny to the older, more Muppet-savvy audience. But if what you really want is an extended sequence focused around concerning quantities of puppet cum, then this is the movie for you. More worrying than anything, though, is that this marks the first feature-length release under Brian Henson’s new ‘Henson Alternative’ banner. If there’s a whole banner, that means there’s going to be more like this.
Oh for felt’s sake.
Pop or Poop?
It’s tough to really explain quite how terrible The Happytime Murders is. This goes beyond unfunny comedy and into something far worse. With pure laziness at its heart, the movie simply assumes that the very notion of puppets shagging and killing is so undeniably hilarious that it doesn’t matter about plot, comedy or basic cinematic competence. That assumption is very, very wrong.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.