The Happytime Murders

The Happytime Murders
The Happytime Murders
Directed by Brian Henson
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Barretta and Joel McHale
In UK Cinemas August 27th 2018

by Richard Hamer

Best described as R-rated Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with muppets, The Happytime Murders takes place in a Los Angeles in which puppets and humans live side by side in not-too-peaceful coexistence. When puppet private investigator Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is hired by a puppet femme fatale to look into a case of attempted blackmail, he quickly finds himself embroiled into a serial murder case involving his brother, ex-LAPD partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and the cast of 80s puppet sitcom ‘The Happytime Gang’.

Further discussion of plot or character is unnecessary: The Happytime Murders is a dreadful comedy, built upon the flimsy notion that anything you do is immediately hilarious if performed by a puppet, and that anything you say is immediately hilarious if a puppet is saying it. And since this is a very much R-rated comedy, we are exposed to extended, embarrassing scenes of puppets masturbating, fucking and ejaculating: Witless attempts to recreate Team America: World Police, not understanding that its humour lay in the physical awkwardness of its marionettes, and in the deadpan absurdity of its dialogue. The Happytime Murders is content to just be blandly gross and boringly edited, its similarly witless dialogue an endless succession of ‘fucks’ and ‘shits’ that get only louder and more frequent as time wears on. Here is an actual joke in the film:

“I’m in the fucking FBI.”

“What does that stand for: Fucking Big Idiot?”

The script reads like a first draft, each ‘fuck’ a placeholder for something more imaginative the writer hoped to add later. Ditto the dreary parade of sex shops, strip clubs and drug dens that make up its locations: The Happytime Murders never reaches for the unexpected when the most tired noir cliches will do, its creators very quickly giving up with its premise of ‘what would a world shared by puppets and humans look like’. It’s lazy and uninteresting to look at, and I’ve never seen a comedy with fewer background sight-gags in it.

Predictably enough for a movie whose hype comes entirely off the back of a single, viral trailer, all the ‘best’ jokes are in the trailer. What The Happytime Murders doesn’t want you to know is about halfway through it becomes entirely absorbed in its own buddy-cop detective story, and entirely forgets to have any jokes in it. This is actually by far the stronger half. Spared any more of its ‘raunchy comedy’, you’re free to let your attention drift during the breezy, and almost aggressively functional police-procedural that makes up the back half of the film. But inoffensive is not the same as good, and it speaks volumes of The Happytime Murders all-pervasive laziness that it just gives up like this.

This is a difficult film to recommend. As an R-rated, bawdy comedy, its vision is cripplingly limited, gambling so heavily on the intrinsic hilarity of puppets that the whole thing feels dramatically undercooked. Even Melissa McCarthy, master of swearing loudly and falling over, can do little to elevate a movie of such half-written swears, and poorly staged pratfalls. For all of the incredible effort that must have gone into its production, The Happytime Murders is just lazy filmmaking, coasting by on a single idea it doesn’t know what to do with, and praying snippets of viral stupidity will coax audiences to come see something so much less than what it promises.


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