There’s an inherent attraction to something like The Happytime Murders, which merges childhood nostalgia with a hard-R-rated script. Unfortunately, Brian Henson’s (son of Jim Henson, having a bit of depraved fun with his legacy) movie can never take the next step to be something hilarious or memorable.
The Happytime Murders establishes its tone quickly as we meet detective Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), who was the first and only muppet to serve on the LAPD. After a shootout that goes horribly wrong, he is kicked off the force and a rule is implemented that states muppets can no longer be cops. When the cast of the 80s television show, called “The Happytime Gang,” start getting murdered one-by-one, Phil is forced to team up with his ex-partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), to solve the case.
“…the cast of the 80s television show, called ‘The Happytime Gang’” start getting murdered one-by-one.”
Phil and Connie are hesitant to work together again because of their history but they head into the seedy underworld of L.A. muppetry to try and crack the case. McCarthy is always game for whatever she attaches herself to – for better or for worse – and tires to keep things lively while working with the puppets. Her effort, while commendable, can’t quite bring the material up to her level.
The Happytime Murders leans heavily into noir trappings, giving Phil the world-weary appearance of someone who sits behind a desk and guzzles whiskey all day hoping for the good-old-days. From the plucky assistant (Maya Rudolph) to his constant chain-smoking, the movie is a puppet pastiche of just about all your favorite crime movies. This deserve much more credit than the comedy aspect because there is some nice attention to detail when staging its noirish elements.
“The plot is simple enough and rarely the movie’s focus…”
Written by Todd Berger, The Happytime Murders eventually ends up spinning its wheels, telling the same joke over-and-over. The plot is simple enough and rarely the movie’s focus because it just wants to set up scene-after-scene of muppets doing something outrageous (there’s enough muppet ejaculate in this movie to impregnate all of Los Angeles). Once the initial gimmick wears off and the movie exhausts its one joke, The Happytime Murders starts to show just how thin it really all is.
Nothing truly registers as hilarious in the movie but it’s silly enough to make for a painless late-summer watch. And who doesn’t like having their childhood called upon by Basic Instinct references. Oh, yes. This movie does that.
The Happytime Murders (2018). Directed by Brian Henson. Written by Todd Berger. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph and the voice of Bill Barretta.
4 out of 10