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.
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.
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