The Happytime Murders, 2018.
Directed by Brian Henson.
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Michael McDonald, Ben Falcone, Dorien Davies, Cynthy Wu, Mitch Silpa, Hemky Madera, Ryan Tran, Fortune Feimster, Brekkan Spens, Benjamin Cole Royer, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Gaul, Jim Palmer, Dennis Keiffer, Michael Croner, Brett Wagner, Colleen Smith, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey, Patty Guggenheim, Allan Trautman, Victor Yerrid, Ted Michaels, and Brian Henson.
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.
To director Brian Henson’s credit, The Happytime Murders manages to make a puppet spraying silly string ejaculate head bangingly boring. A Basic Instinct homage showing a certain puppet’s purple pubic hair doesn’t so much shock, more give way to a sigh of absolute exasperation.
It’s all so spectacularly lame. No part of the film works cohesively, as if a patchwork of poorly made felt and cheap stuffing has been forced into the rotting cavity of Henson’s bulbous ego.
At least that is the only possible justification for its creation. There’s enough material to maybe fill a 10-minute YouTube sketch by a creator your teenager admires, but their jokes of ejaculate and fecal explosions are only funny to them. It seemingly has the same budget too; the puppets all look flimsy, as if put together for a school talent show.
The plot, a by the numbers noir trying desperately to emulate Who Framed Roger Rabbit? finds puppet private investigator Phil Phillips (a gruff De Niro-lite Bill Barretta) joining forces with one-time partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). Years earlier a botched case lead to the dismissal of Phillips and installed the Phillips Act, in which puppets and human cannot work hand in hand in the police force.
The murders of the Happytime Gang, a briefly successful puppet family TV show, forces the two to come together once more.
The murders themselves are sporadically funny and are the only real moments that play with the form. Slow motions shots of fluff and felt exploding raises a slight giggle, whilst a washed up corpse being ringed out at least has an ounce of self-awareness.
But these moments are so few and far between. Conversations between puppet to puppet look half-arsed, and poor Melissa McCarthy, who has to grapple with material unforgiving even for her.
Phil Phillips is the creation of someone who has maybe seen half a Bogart-noir and the first ten minutes of Chinatown whist Melissa McCarthy plays a Melissa McCarthy type written by someone who only watched a five minute compilation of her greatest hits.
Human characters at least offer moments of respite. Joel McHale plays it with just enough seriousness to raise a smirk, whilst Maya Rudolph is genuinely wonderful as Phillips’ lovelorn secretary.
At 80 minutes, it is at least a mild diversion. But then it’s frankly impressive just how truly dull it is. The pacing, like the tone, is wildly incoherent, running full paced at a brick wall over and over again. I truly don’t know how this was made. If it at least looked decent, maybe there would be an answer, but for a film trying to emulate noir classics, it has the aesthetics of rush jobs shot on your mum’s cheap digital camera.
The Happytime Murders is sincerely rubbish. Henson and co. have managed to create something with all the hallmarks of a Friedberg and Seltzer mid-noughties bargain bin comedy. Stay for Maya Rudolph and nothing more.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★