Courtesy of STX Entertainment
Much like “Team America: World Police” and “Sausage Party” prior, “The Happytime Murders” is the latest R rated comedy to use what is usually referred to as ‘children's fare’ (this time it's puppets) for crude and lewd behaviors.
So if you ever wanted to see puppets be scandalous, say bad words, have sex, and do drugs (this time in the form of pixie stick sugar with a Twizzler). Then the folks over at Hensen Alternative (the same Hensen that created the Muppets) have a film for you. Granted, if you’ve never seen “Avenue Q” - I suggest you look it up before heading to this one.
Setting itself up as hybrid, buddy-cop, film in present day, “Murders” is the equivalent of “Lethal Weapon,” except with puppets. It plays like a routine buddy cop flick, has all the stakes you’d expect in a buddy cop flick, and even has the bickering partners...like in a buddy cop flick. Once you can establish that you’re in this world of puppet debauchery, the easier it’ll be to settle in for what “Murders” can offer you as the viewer.
There are worse movies that have come out this summer, whereas “Murders” falls somewhere in the middle. Not dumb enough to be completely useless, nor as funny and relevant that it would presume, the film sets forth a scruffy and interesting protagonist in the form of Los Angeles detective Phil Phillips (longtime Muppet voice over artist Bill Barretta) parading around via a world where puppets and humans coexist. In one of Todd Berger’s more inspired notions in the screenplay, Puppets are seen as an inferior race (would that be pupism?) A social commentary that seems well in tuned with happenings in the world around us, however, once the main bulk of the plot starts to shift gears, this interesting tidbit seems to get stuffed aside in favor of puppet pubes and grotesque BDSM.
As for the plot, this noir-setting caper follows Phillips (complete with a stylish voiceover throughout) sleuthing a hot-new case. His friends are being brutally murdered (of course - they’re puppets, so like there’s lots of stuffing instead of blood and a slew of piñata jokes). The connection to their deaths is a tad obvious too. Each and every slain puppet is a former cast member of a popular television show entitled “The Happytime Gang.”
The motive might feel cartoonish, but then again we’re watching a film about naughty childrens toys. And the wild antics only seem to intensify as Phillips former partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy giving plenty of loud spurts to her loyal fanbase) arrives on the scene and - in a derivative cliche - are forced to work together.
The earlier scenes certainly get the ball rolling (if any parent mistakenly takes their child into the film, they’ll know within the first two minutes that, perhaps, a sitter should’ve been hired). But after the initial high of seeing a beloved children's property get the R rated treatment, it slowly becomes a scattershot conundrum of ill-timed jokes.
To put into perspective, there’s a scene about midway through which sees Phillips seducing a client in his office, and the big finale is something that won’t be quickly removed from your brain. This is tasteless humor, which is something you should expect from a film like this, but that scene plays out five minutes longer than it should’ve. Almost like the writers said “Hey! Let’s make an R rated Muppet movie and feature a ten minute puppet sex scene!” The third grader in me definitely got a kick out of it.
Granted, the film was helmed by Jim Henson’s own bloodline: his son Brian, and so the Muppets themselves are of quality, with the puppeteers doing tremendous work behind the scenes to help make this story more engaging and believable.
Ultimately, “Murders” works best when it stops harping up the one-joke schtick for too long, and focuses on the puppet and human interaction. McCarthy’s Edwards and Barretta’s Phillips are a good fit and pair, and yet, the script only hints at the type of relationship they have. With most of it reverted to flashbacks and newspaper clippings. Likewise for others actresses: Elizabeth Banks and Maya Rudolph who have fun in their small, albeit, beefy roles that add an extra layer to all the puppet mayhem.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to laugh at and indulge in “The Happytime Murders” - and I think the voice-work by Barretta is a sensational highlight. Proving there’s a solid comedy lurking beneath a script that struggles to find beats and moments when necessary. Still, if you never want to look at silly string the same way, or watch a puppet octopus pleasure a cow by milking all eight of its teats at once - here’s your chance.