Director: Chris Henson
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale
RunTime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: M18 (Crude Humour and Coarse Language)
Released By: GVP
Opening Day: 13 September 2018
Synopsis: No Sesame. All Street. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is a filthy comedy set in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles where puppets and humans coexist. Two clashing detectives with a shared secret, one human (Melissa McCarthy) and one puppet, are forced to work together again to solve the brutal murders of the former cast of a beloved classic puppet television show.
Puppets behaving badly is the one-joke-premise of ‘The Happytime Murders’, a noir and Muppet spoof directed by Chris Henson, current chairman of the Jim Henson Company and son of the late Muppets creator.
Working under the banner of the newly launched Henson Alternative shingle, Henson and his writer Todd Berger imagine an alternate-reality Los Angeles where people and puppets struggle to co-exist, with the latter treated as second-class citizens that are picked on by children, terrorised by pets, denigrated by humans and forced to perform for loose change in the streets.
But equally, this is also a world where our felt companions swear, do drugs and indulge in copious ejaculations of silly string, so you’d be forgiven if you cannot quite summon much empathy for their predicament.
In fact, how much you enjoy this movie depends on how much you’d enjoy watching smutty puppets, because there really isn’t much else that it has going for it. Not the detective plot for sure, which isn’t very clever, intriguing or original to begin with.
Bill Baretta voices the former cop turned private investigator Phil Philips, who is forced to reteam with his former human LAPD partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to find the killer behind a string of murders targeting the washed-up cast members of a Sesame Street-like ‘80s show called ‘The Happytime Gang’.
Narrative convention dictates that Connie and Phil ought to be mismatched cops bickering and hurtling insults at each other, so it turns out that the pair used to be best pals until a hostage situation gone bad that saw Phil fail to shoot the crook holding Connie at gunpoint and accidentally killing an innocent passer-by instead. Not only did Connie testify against Phil, the latter ended up being kicked off the force with the impression that puppets were incapable of policing their own.
To no one’s surprise, both will come to resolve their grievances with each other, while deciphering that the motive of the killings has a personal connection with Phil after all. Certainly, the focus isn’t so much on the story itself than on the juvenile gags that it is meant to string into a somewhat coherent movie.
One of them has Phil visiting a downtown brothel-cum-porn studio where we see a video of a Dalmatian whipping a fireman tied to a bed and a money shot of an octopus stroking the udders of a moaning puppet cow. Another has Phil and a sex-obsessed red-headed puppet (voiced by Dorien Davies) going at it in his office as a trio of cops and his secretary Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) watch through the glass.
Yet another has Connie snorts puppet coke while visiting the crime-ridden Skid Row and then proceeding to teach a misogynistic male puppet a lesson about respecting the opposite sex. And yet another sees the aforementioned redhead aping Sharon Stone’s infamous leg-cross moment in Basic Instinct while being interrogated by the police.
Yes, every single joke is meant to push the envelope of indecency involving these felt creatures from our childhood, but the relentlessness of the profanity and sex jokes wears thin quickly and soon gets irritating. It doesn’t help that Henson displays little grasp of comic timing, choosing instead to throw every lewd joke dialled up to an 11 at the wall and hope that at least some stick (pun intended).
Not even the usually reliable McCarthy can save this humourless dreck from itself, but in this case, seeing as how she and her husband Ben Falcone were producers, the fault lies as much with her. After all, she has only herself to blame for setting her character up to be made fun of by others for looking unfeminine, and as much as her delivery of one-liners and caustic put-downs is sharp as ever, she’s in serious danger of falling back to the same stereotype across her films.
So even though the whole flesh and felt idea might have been intended as racial allegory, ‘The Happytime Murders’ achieves no such commentary in the end, obsessed as it is with gross-out humour and even casual sadism (warning: puppets do get cavalierly dismembered). Like we said at the beginning, unless you really, really enjoy watching puppets behaving badly, there is little entertainment value to be found on this street, and we suspect you’d equally be more than happy to remain on Sesame.
(There isn't much happytime to be had with this one-joke premise of a movie that chooses to be vulgar, offensive and sadistic at the same time with little restraint)
Review by Gabriel Chong