Have you ever been out a party, and there is this one guy making bad jokes? Jokes so bad people pretend they don’t hear them. The guy thinks no one heard his jokes so he keeps repeating them over and over, hoping to get some sort of cheap pity laugh. If you were to take that situation and roll it up into a movie. It would be The Happytime Murders, an unholy bastardisation of everything sacred from a childhood raised by Muppets.
When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.
Directed by Brian Henson, the film follows the story of puppet Phil Phillips, an ex-cop turned P.I. He is hired by a puppet named Sandra to find out who is blackmailing her, when he gets pulled into a string of murders of the cast of a former hit TV show. He’s reluctantly paired with his old partner Detective Connie Edwards (played by Melissa McCarthy) as the venture into the seedy underworld of puppet crime.
The plot is extremely thin and predictable. As far as a film noir or crime drama, this film plays every trope and cliche so much that the big reveal can be see coming before the end of the first act. There’s no real drama or character depth. Its just puppets saying dirty things for a cheap laugh. None of the puppets have a look that really fits with their personalities like the Muppets or the gang from Sesame Street did, so they are easily forgettable. If an interesting puppet is introduced, chances are they will be killed off before they have a chance to make a real impression.
The cast is pretty stacked, if not underutilized. Melissa McCarthy has some pretty fun scenes, but her performances is mostly a greatest hits rehash of her other comedic roles. Joel McHale is always a gift, and his presence in the film elicits some genuine laughs. The biggest treat this cast has to offer is Leslie David Baker (best known as Stanley from The Office), who drenches profanity laden sentences with sass that audiences have come to expect from him. The movie is worth seeing once for him alone.
The premise of The Happytime Murders is “No Sesame. All Street.” This is supposed to be an adult version of a beloved kid’s show, but it just misses the mark entirely. Its not impossible to make a successful version of this film. Look at last years Sausage Party, a VERY adult take on an animated kids film, or Team America: World Police, a very fun and very adult puppet based comedy. This territory is ripe with great comedic opportunities, but discards that for easy sex jokes.
Somewhere down the line, this could have been a great movie. A compelling puppet film with genuine adult comedy (adult comedy doesn’t just have to be about sex, guys) is something that the generation who was raised by the muppets would definitely love. Maybe this film got rushed through production. Maybe it wasn’t what was originally intended. The film that was released feels like someone decided to push out a film about a really bad joke that never landed with anyone. If you want to go to theater and shut your brain off for a solid 90 minutes, then this movie may be right up your alley.
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