The Happytime Murders (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
You are a Melissa McCarthy completist.
Perhaps you are aware that this script has existed for a decade, and are curious to see Brian Henson, son to Muppet creator Jim Henson, take puppets and drop them into an R-rated setting.
Nothing matters anymore.
Puppets snorting and drinking sugar, having sex, watching porn, and engaging in debauchery. Are you not entertained?
Watch the trailer, maybe?
Honestly, whatever this idea was, compared to what it became, this thing was snakebitten from the start. This is wildly unfunny, gross, and borderline offensive “comedy” that is almost impossible to recommend to anyone.
So, I think I understand the idea behind The Happytime Murders.
Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson, wanted to make a puppet-driven comedy that was both a tribute to the old cop investigative films of the 1970’s, while creating a world where puppets and humans co-exist. Within that world, a puppet detective and human cop must set aside their differences and come together to solve a series of puppet murders, involving the stars of a popular 1980’s puppet-television series “The Happytime Gang!”
Okay. With me so far?
This idea first surfaced in 2008, and a number of actors were attached to the project: Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Katherine Heigl – all left when pre-production would stall or studios balked at moving forward. Film rights were lost, scripts were thrown out and rewritten, but by May 2017, Melissa McCarthy joined the project as co-producer, uncredited script polisher and lead actor, which brought along Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, and others. Suddenly, The Happytime Murders was alive again and heading into production.
And what a production this is.
If reports that a PG-13 script was tossed in favor of something more R-rated is to be believed, then shout out to whoever conceived the idea of an octopus, manually pleasuring a cow by squeezing milk out of its udders in the back room of a puppet-run porn shop. Or the scene where a fireman, tied to a bed, is being dominated by a dog ordering him to bark, while barking at the man and later, squeezing his nipples.
And let’s not even address the use of silly string or the significance of purple.
What a time to be alive.
The Happytime Murders is a movie that fills a weathered and weary premise, with shock and awe visual comedy, until Henson runs out of ideas and the “script” by Todd Berger and “story” by Berger and Dee Austin Robertson runs out of graphic humor and cheap, tawdry witticisms to shock its audience into laughter.
I suppose the basic premise is decent enough, if not confounding in execution. We see a dystopian Los Angeles where puppets co-exist with humans, but are treated as second-class citizens. Focusing on grizzled, depressed, alcoholic puppet cop, Detective Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), we learn that he was not only the first, but also the last, puppet police officer after his partner, Det. Connie Edwards (McCarthy), accused him of missing a puppet assailant on purpose because “puppets don’t shoot puppets.”
Now a hard-scrabble private detective, Philips has fortuitous timing at situations where former stars of “The Happytime Gang!” have been getting murdered. This brings the former partners back together, the FBI gets involved, Stanley from “The Office” is here as a cop, and it only gets weirder from there.
In fact, this whole world is just bizarre. Puppets are made of fluff and apparently feel no pain. Yet, when a puppet gets shot in the arm, or later falls, he gets bandaged up and/or complains that his ankle hurts. Yet when that same puppet is getting beaten up by two human assailants, treating him like a punching bag, he laughs and tells them he’s just a puppet and nothing they do can hurt him.
Henson’s film makes veiled references to immigration and the treatment of immigrants and mixed-race individuals in America, and perhaps the most offensive element within all of this madness is that Henson even hints at political undertones with any of this.
Stop it. Don’t. Don’t do that.
Also, people drink sugary drinks like they are hard alcohol and one human character has a dependency on snorting sugar and drinking maple syrup right out of the bottle.
These are the jokes folks. These. Are. The. Jokes.
Some have called The Happytime Murders the worst film of the summer, the year, the decade. Driving home from the theater, a fellow critic and I paused for a moment to consider if we knew anyone – anyone at all – we could encourage to go pay money to watch this.
No. That answer we came up with was a silent, but deafening NO. And while I will not apologize for the few laughs The Happytime Murders pulled out of me, this remains an outright debacle of a movie.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Michael McDonald.
Featuring the Voices of: Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Victor Yerrid, Drew Massey, Ted Michaels, Brian Henson, Donna Kimball.
Director: Brian Henson
Written by: Todd Berger (screenplay); Todd Berger, Dee Austin Robertson (story)
Release Date: August 24, 2018