Courtesy: STX Entertainment


Want Puppet Sex? Melissa McCarthy's 'Happytime Murders' Has You Covered

If you howl with laughter at the very mention of puppets dropping F-bombs, exploding in Silly String orgasms, doing it doggy style and getting strung out on lines of Pop Rocks, The Happytime Murders is out in theaters this weekend. It’s the Muppets tarted up, smacked around, debased and taken down a peg or three for our knockdown era. If that’s your jam, have at it.

The movie may be R-rated which, in this case, means: rancid—but cool, smart, subversive, outrageous, it's not. Instead, it's painfully unfunny, numbingly lame and so arthritically old, old school that it feels like something shelved decades ago and released for no good reason. I mean, come on—raunchy puppets go back a while, on-screen in Peter Jackson’s 1989 graphically gory flick, Meet the Feebles; and onstage in Avenue Q. Plus, human and non-human costars in a mystery thriller setting go back to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
In fact, the neo-film noir movie from director Brian Henson (yes, the son of that late visionary Henson) is a total miss, start to finish, not even aspiring to the smarts and edge of, say, Team America: World Police, or the gleeful filth of Sausage Party. Instead, it’s got Basic Instinct jokes, with purple-yarn public hair, for the love of Mike.

Scripted by Todd Berger, the decade-in-development, laughs-and-satire-deficient movie centers on a grimy, disgraced, boozy ex-L.A. cop—now a private investigator—Phil Phillips (nicely voiced and operated by longtime Muppeteer Bill Barretta), who is clearly meant to be a little Humphrey Bogart, a little Robert De Niro, a little Peter “Columbo” Falk. Just as in The Maltese Falcon, Phil’s curvy, lovelorn secretary, Bubbles (Maya Rudolph, giving the movie way more oomph and style than it deserves), secretly carries a torch for him, while his tough, potty-mouth ex-partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy, in there pitching, too), disdains him for a failure of courage in shooting a felt-based life form and causing an ugly death that got him booted off the force.

Then, there are two femmes fatale. First, it's a red-haired schoolmarm-looking nymphomaniac puppet who hires Phil to find the people threatening to kill her. Then, there's Phil’s stripper-with-a-heart-of-fool's-gold girlfriend, Jenny, played surprisingly indifferently by the usually sharp Elizabeth Banks. At least within seconds after Jenny delivers a touching speech about getting back together with the lovestruck Phil, she apparently meets a fiery and untimely end.

It's a nasty, cold world in which humans coexist with felt puppets (like, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), and the latter get treated as second-class citizens and vermin (read: the movie’s clumsy attempt at dealing with racism). But when someone starts offing the surviving cast members of The Happytime Gang, a 1980s TV show on which Phil’s brother Larry starred, the P.I. and his ex-partner get thrown together to crack the case, forcing them to crawl beneath Tinseltown’s gritty underbelly of lowlifes and losers. 
Filled with visual gags on the level of an octopus jerking off a cow, The Happytime Murders is a movie that fizzles fast.
Filled with visual gags on the level of an octopus jerking off a cow, The Happytime Murders is a movie that fizzles fast. Actors float in and out—like Joel McHale and, for a nanosecond, Silicon Valley's scene-stealing Jimmy O. Yang—and make zero impact. Nothing works, no matter how hard everyone tries. The mystery killer is easily guessable. The laughs are gross and puerile but never edgy enough. The movie is so slow and badly paced that, after the jokes fall flat, the camera stays locked on characters doing nothing—as if the comedy came so thick and fast that the action needs to freeze to accommodate the big laughs. There aren't any.

Whatever sense of excitement and anticipation the flick generates, it runs out of steam in the first 10 of its 91 minutes. Sadly, whatever promise the original script and premise had, The Happytime Murders turns out to be a place where good ideas went to die. 

The Happytime Murders

Um, some of the cast members give it their all?
It ain't easy being green—or making a movie, it seems
Rating: 1 out of 4 bunnies

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