TL;DR – Take everything wrong with Bright, smash it into Who Framed Roger Rabbit with all the charm removed, and sprinkle in some jokes about puppet sex and you pretty much have this film.
Score – 1.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is some behind the scenes footage during the credits
Well … that was an experience, I’ll tell you that much. I mean it has a lot of bits that usually I really like, like the noir setting, a ‘who done it’ mystery, and a story that is wanting to subvert a genre. I also really like Melissa McCarthy as an actor, and well they also upset Sesame Street and well that’s interesting all in itself. However, none of this matters because at no point does the film come together and at best it hits moments of being mediocre.
So to set the scene, we open like all noir films on our brooding protagonist Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) a former detective, now private investigator, and oh he is also a puppet. He lets us in on the world as we drive through the streets of Los Angeles. It is a world where everyone is happy and gets along because at least you are not a puppet. As Philips arrives at his office he finds out there is a dame waiting for him. Sandra (Dorien Davies) is being blackmailed because of her history of engaging in extra-marital relations. Noticing a clue in the blackmail note Philips visits an old acutance who now runs an ‘adult entertainment’ store. However, it is not a happy reunion, instead, it is a bloodbath as several puppets are taken out by a merciless killer. It is here where a bad omen of the past arrives in the guise of Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), Phil’s ex-partner and the reason he is no longer a cop.
Now, I don’t think it is at all surprising to surmise that I didn’t enjoy this film, and you would be correct. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the puppet work is really well done. Now the director is Brian Henson, yes from The Muppet Show and Farscape Henson and that craftsmanship shows. There are shots with multiple puppets with different rigs all working together, and from a technical perspective, it is amazing to watch. Indeed this is the film’s one saving grace, well that and Melissa McCarthy is clearly comfortable in this kind of role after films like Spy (see review) and there is a great rapport between the two leads.
However, while I wish I had more nice things to say about The Happytime Murders, I’m sorry it’s just not that type of film and you can see that across many facets. We see it with the main theme of the film, that puppets are real and what would that look like in the real world. Well as a premise it is not bad, indeed Who Framed Roger Rabbit showed you can pull it off, but it stumbles at almost every point. Nowhere can we see that more clearly is with the film’s hopelessly clumsy attempts to have something to say about systemic racism. Indeed this film might actually beat out Bright (see review) in the tone-deaf depiction of race relations, more so given that many of the situations are played for laughs. Add to this a plot that is less inspired by the noir genre, and instead we get a more cookie cutter paint by numbers riff on noir and buddy cop films of the past. Look after maybe the first couple of minutes I doubt anything will really be a surprise. It also really wastes a strong cast, I mean why bother to have Joel McHale and Elizabeth Banks if you are not going to do anything with them.
Well, it might be tone deaf and very predictable, but that might not have been a deal breaker if they had shown how this premise of ‘The Muppets but like R-rated’ could be something that could sustain a feature-length film and it just runs out of steam much sooner than you would have hoped. Any real hope that this would work dissipated during the sex scene and just when you think they might be finally getting it all together we get maybe the tackiest Basic Interest ‘homage’ and it is all downhill from there.
In the end, do we recommend The Happytime Murders? No, no we don’t. Look yes, the puppet work is excellent, and one or two of the jokes did manage to crack a smile on my face. However, none of that makes up for the disaster that is the rest of the film.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Happytime Murders
Directed by – Brian Henson
Story by – Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson
Screenplay by – Todd Berger
Music by – Christopher Lennertz
Cinematography by – Mitchell Amundsen
Edited by – Brian Scott Olds
Starring – Bill Barretta, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Dorien Davies, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Victor Yerrid, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey, Alice Dinnean, Jimmy O. Yang & Ryan Gaul
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 18A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R