By Mark Saldana
Rating: 1.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
From Brian Henson, son of late Muppet creator Jim Henson, comes a movie which attempts to entertain adult audiences with raunch, shock and awe, but ultimately falls flat. The Happytime Murders takes puppet characters similar to Jim Henson’s Muppets and places them in adult scenarios of sexual, violent, and crude natures. For all of the movie’s lasciviousness and salaciousness, there just isn’t any real wit or inventiveness to the story and plot. The overall product plays out like the rebellious act of a son who wants to break free of his father’s brilliant shadow. However, this act has none of the ingenuity which earned the father his respect and admiration.
Melissa McCarthy stars as Police Detective Connie Edwards. Edwards and her one time puppet partner Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) have a fateful reunion when both end up at the scene of a puppet murder. Edwards and Philips once had a great working relationship, but after Philips’s fall from grace and his subsequent dismissal from the force, the two friends have grown apart. Since then, Phil has worked as a private investigator and one of his recent cases leads him to witness a killing at a porn shop. The victim, a puppet rabbit actor from an old successful sitcom, The Happytime Gang, at first seems like an unusual target. However, as more puppet actors from the show fall prey to murder, it becomes apparent that this is the work of a serial killer. Because Philips has a personal connection with the show, he decides to team up with Edwards to solve the murder plot.
Written by Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson, Henson’s foray into adult-themed puppet movies just doesn’t have very much sharp comedy or anything really interesting to offer audiences besides its sexual gags and profanity. Though the movie has a few genuinely funny moments, the rest is pure sleaze and raunch. I sat through the film mostly bored, frustrated, and waiting for something interesting to happen.
Most of the comedy sequences fall flat as well. Even Melissa McCarthy with all of her comic improvisational skills couldn’t rise above the weak material with which she has to work. The film also features the talented and funny Elizabeth Banks, but her gifts are sadly and frustratingly underused here. Maya Rudolph, who portrays Philips’s adoring and streetwise secretary Bubbles, actually has a few enjoyable scenes, but never gets to really shine. I did enjoy the performance of Leslie David Baker, who potrays Edwards’s superior officer Lieutenant Banning, but actor Joel McHale is given very little to do in this film.
With all of its comedic talent, and the impressive work of the puppeteers and voice talents, The Happytime Murders feels like a big disappointing missed opportunity for something great and entertaining. Though Brian Henson has attempted to give his audiences a funny subversive take on his father’s Muppets, his film needed a better script with way funnier humor and less raunchy gags. Henson should have taken some more notes from a movie like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? because that movie actually honors and celebrates its roots. This movie makes it difficult to tell if Brian Henson actually loves what makes The Muppets and Sesame Street special and wonderful.