The Happytime Murders is crude, crass and irreverent. Melissa McCarthy offers her same routine comedy performance, ruining a really good story idea.
God bless Jim Henson for giving me so many fond childhood memories. Whether it was “The Muppet Show” reruns or the films “The Muppet Movie,” I fell in love with the stories that they told, the muppet characters who I could relate to: their stories were full of limitless imagination and spirit. They interacted with human beings, but we never emoted over the humans.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I still feel badly for Charles Grodin’s character in “The Great Muppet Caper.”
The point is that we as an audience were invested in the emotions of masterfully motioned puppets, who were able to tell timeless tales while laughing and singing.
And Brian Henson’s “The Happytime Murders” starts out on these same notes, though in a much more raunchy and graphic depiction. As a matter of fact, the first 15 minutes of the film are some of the most human feeling cinematic minutes I’ve seen in a long time. We learn who Detective Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is and why he’s a detective. We meet Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) his human secretary. She’s an absolute peach.
The story plays like a Phillip Marlowe noir, complete with voice overs.
Phillips is hired by Sandra (Dorien Davies) to help solve a frame-up. His investigation leads to a porn shop where a murder is committed. One of the victims happens to be a member of the acting troupe of the popular puppet show, The Happytime Gang. Phil’s older brother, Larry “Shenanigans” Phillips played a cop on the show as well. They meet over coffee to discuss what happened. It is obvious from the discussion that the brothers took two different paths to success.
It is these moments that make The Happytime Murders such a fun movie. The world that Henson created from Todd Berger’s screenplay (story by Berger and Dee Austin Robertson) is absolutely magical.
Then Melissa McCarthy’s Detective Connie Edwards steps in to the film. I don’t mind McCarthy. She can be genuinely funny. In fact, I gravitate towards stories where she isn’t feeling badly about herself.
This isn’t one of those stories.
Once McCarthy enters the picture, the story becomes more human-centric; we care less and less about the puppets as the murders continue to pile up.
Sure, there are some genuinely funny moments, especially those involving puppets. But a lot of the jokes, we’ve seen before. Sure, the perspective might have changed, now that puppets are telling them, but some of the film just comes off as being crass and crude for the sake of humor.
The biggest challenge is the constant back and forth between Edwards and Phillips. What should play as a buddy-cop story really plays off as just dumb humor. The need to integrate humans and puppets and put aside our differences is a noble idea as long as it is told from the puppets’ perspective.
That is why my childhood memories of the Muppets is so fond to me. I understood what it meant to be different and how to accept others as they are. There are elements of those ideals and morals here. The human element is what’s really missing and that’s what disappointed me most about this film. It had the ability to tell a unique story and the puppet strings got cut too early.
Now in theaters, The Happytime Murders has been rated R by the MPAA. (Don’t believe us? Watch the Red Band Trailer above.)