Movie Review: “The Happytime Murders” – Put a Sock in It

Written by Jeremiah Greville August 27, 2018

The Happytime Murders

Officer, I’m not quite sure what happened…

Writing a review of The Happytime Murders is a bit like describing a mugging or a car accident. I know something bad has happened. I know that something has been done to me. I’ve survived to tell the tale, but why, and at what cost? The Happytime Murders is shockingly bad, to the point where reality starts to bleed and you question whether or not the experience was real. Was there actually a raunchy rated-R puppet crime comedy starring Melissa McCarthy? Was there really only one funny scene in the whole damn thing? It stills feels a bit like a bad dream, and years from now will be one of those films we remember in surprise. Like Flubber—hey guys, remember Flubber? Anyway, read on to get a better idea of the shape of this motion picture wreckage.

The Happytime Murders stars Melissa McCarthy as a cop you won’t care about teaming up with a puppet. It takes place in a world where puppets are sentient second-rate creatures in a modern class system. Yes, you’re not crazy—it’s just like that Netflix movie Bright. While the main character is really the puppet P.I. Phil Phillips, operated and voiced by Bill Barretta, McCarthy is the human face of the whole thing and the only real star-power behind the project. Brian Henson, son of famed puppeteer Jim Henson, directs the film from a script written by Todd Berger. And together, they leave a bag of steaming puppet-sized poo on the elder Henson’s legacy. While the film’s inexplicable release set that bag on fire, seeing it in theatres is equivalent to stomping it out with your best pair of shoes. Don’t fall for the trick. Don’t put yourself through that.

“Clean up on aisle Phil.”

The plot of the film follows the two leads as they investigate a series of murders. The victims are all members of a long-since cancelled TV series called The Happytime Gang. That’s all you really need to know going in. There are classic twists and red-herrings throughout, but not enough to make the film really memorable. The most surprising thing I can say about the structure of this film is that it’s far more of a neo-noir detective story than it is a comedy. Take away the puppets, and The Happytime Murders becomes any other forgettable Sunday afternoon basic cable bore. At a certain point, it seems like the people behind this film forgot it was supposed to be funny. Or rather, forgot that humour takes work. It’s not enough to show us a puppet in every scene and expect a laugh. Your audience isn’t children this time.

The Happytime Murders

And if the puppets aren’t there making us laugh, then why are they there at all? The movie certainly takes its time to show that puppets are indeed victims of systemic prejudice, but never reaches for anything more. I cringe at the idea of giving them any credit for a deeper metaphor. They simply haven’t earned it. There’s no attempt at world-building or any reason given for why/how puppets came to exist alongside humans. There’s no reason given for why puppets are ostracized either. There was so little thought given to any bit of this mess that at a certain point it seems almost insulting to consider it. If the filmmakers didn’t care enough to answer these questions, why the hell should the audience?

“I ruptured my hymen.”

The result is a disaster. McCarthy looks completely lost even as she tries her best to interact with the puppets around her. The film lurches from scene to scene with no sense of purpose or humour. When there is a recognizable joke, it fails. Most enter like a wet fart and leave an embarrassing stain behind—though even that’s giving them too much credit. The one gag that works in the film involves graphic puppet sex, but it’s a bit that relies on shock value and won’t inspire many repeat viewings. You can practically see the shame on the face of each actor who takes part, and the fleeting undercurrent of hope that the end result will be entertaining. It’s painful to see the worst-case scenario come to life. Yes, The Happytime Murders is that bad.

The Happytime Murders

That hope, however, is probably the most fascinating part of the entire film. The Happytime Murders, on paper, seems like an intriguingly transgressive idea. It’s the kind of ridiculous premise with the right talent involved that could have added up to something special. But every opportunity was squandered. The class and racial metaphors are abandoned for a mediocre crime plot. The humour is abandoned—or taken for granted altogether—for the same. A cast of great comedians are wasted at every turn, including Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, and Joel McHale. Everyone involved was better than this, and you could put money on people losing their jobs because of the result. The one nice thing I can say about the whole thing is that the puppetry is top-notch. At least there’s that.

“If shit gets crazy I’m gonna go crazy as shit.”

Don’t waste your time with this film unless the trailer was something you really–really–enjoyed. If you have drugs, bring them. If you have scruples, abandon them. I almost fell asleep during the climax of the film, and that sentence is wild when you consider that this is a movie featuring R-rated puppets! How does that happen? In what world is that acceptable? The Happytime Murders is, frankly, boring for long stretches. My only solace is that the popcorn was tasty throughout. I urge you to see something else if you value your money or your time. But if you want to waste both and question your sanity, then go see The Happytime Murders. It’s a movie. It exists. It happened. Now, we’re just left with the pesky question of why.

Yes officer, almost like another crime to solve…

(Correction, Aug 30: The Happytime Murders is not Brian Henson’s directorial debut, as was previously written. That was actually 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. )

My Rating. 3/10

The Happytime Murders

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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