The idea sounds funny enough: an R-rated raunchy Muppet comedy starring Melissa McCarthy.
I like Muppets, and I like Melissa McCarthy, and the notion of foul-mouthed Muppets sounds just refreshing enough to make this one something special.
Now, I realized this movie was getting dreadful reviews, but Melissa McCarthy’s previous film, LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018) also got poor reviews, but I actually thought it was pretty funny. So, I headed off to the theater to catch this adult puppet comedy.
And it is a puppet comedy. I know I called it a Muppet comedy, but they’re referred to as puppets here, even though, yes, they look exactly like Muppets, and the film is directed by Brian Henson, the son of the late great Muppet creator Jim Henson, and director of two Muppet movies himself.
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS takes place in a world where puppets and humans co-exist, but not equally. In fact, humans treat puppets rather poorly. What a surprise!
Puppet private eye Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) finds himself at the center of a murder investigation when the former cast members of an 80s puppet TV show, including Phil’s brother and some of his friends, are murdered one by one. Phil is a former LAPD officer, and his former partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) is on the case.
Phil left the force under tragic circumstances when he failed to make a shot against a fellow puppet and his stray bullet shot and killed an innocent bystander. The notion became that puppets couldn’t be police officers because they couldn’t be trusted to shoot their own kind.
When Phil himself becomes a suspect in the Happytime murders, he and Connie work together to help Phil elude the police and find the real killer.
The biggest problem with THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is that the script doesn’t hold up. For starters, the story here is structured like a million other cliché private detective storylines with the Bogart-like private eye gloomily commenting on the proceedings with a film noir voice-over. For such an overused trope like this to work, the script would have to be incredibly good and creative, and sadly, it isn’t. So, the story becomes boring long before the film’s 90 minutes are up.
Admittedly, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS gets off to a pretty funny start. Watching crude vulgar puppets swear at each other and worse, is hilarious at first, but without enough jokes to sustain it, the novelty of the whole thing wears off fast. That being said, there are a couple of laugh out loud moments, one involving an octopus and a cow in one of the wackiest sexual images you’ll ever see, and another involving an obscene sex sequence that takes advantage of the fact that you’re watching puppets. It shows things you wouldn’t see outside a pornographic movie but since the figures on-screen are puppets, the filmmakers can get away with it.
The film definitely earns its R rating. The jokes are lewd and crude, and they’re funny.
But then strangely they disappear. The first half of THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is definitely the best half. The second part of the movie simply isn’t as creative, and the laughs become pretty nonexistent.
It’s simply not a very strong script by Todd Berger. The jokes aren’t there, and neither really is the story. For the whole puppets in a human world storyline to work, there has to be some depth. We see humans being cruel to puppets, for instance, but only briefly and the whole thing comes off as incredibly superficial. I didn’t believe anything about this puppet world at all.
The film only works when the jokes are funny, and this only happens early on. And the jokes are all of the vulgar variety, which I didn’t mind, but if you’re not into very raunchy humor, especially humor that is sexual in nature, you’ll want to avoid this one.
The cast doesn’t really help either.
The story is built around the main puppet character Phil, and he is a complete bore, which really drags the film down. Bill Barretta does an adequate job voicing Phil, and most of the time he comes off sounding like Robert De Niro, which only made me wish the real De Niro was playing the role.
Melissa McCarthy does her thing, but she’s simply not that funny here. She has a couple of okay scenes, but having seen a lot of her movies, this is one of her least comedic performances. I definitely enjoyed her more in LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018).
But I’m still a fan. She was hilarious in BRIDESMAIDS (2011), THE HEAT (2013), and SPY (2015), to name just a few of her movies, and she’ll be back again in top form I’m sure. Here in THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS she was simply okay and really didn’t have much of an impact in this movie.
Elizabeth Banks is stuck in a thankless role as Jenny, Phil’s former love interest and the one human star of the Happytime TV show. Maya Rudolph, who has co-starred with McCarthy before, in LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018) and BRIDESMAIDS (2011) admittedly does enjoy some humorous moments here as Phil’s secretary Bubbles.
The rest of the human cast is rather dull, and the puppets don’t add much either.
In spite of the potentially clever concept, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is pretty bad. In fact, it just might be the worst movie I’ve seen all year.
The film starts off funny, if you don’t mind your humor crude and rude, but then the jokes pretty much disappear, and the second half becomes a monumental bore.
In spite of its title, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS isn’t much of a happy time.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.