The idea of “The Happytime Murders” a film set in an R-rated Muppet styled Universe directed by Jim Henson’s son, seems on its surface to be a very interesting premise. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite live up to its lineage, due to a number of factors including poor writing and miscast actors. The film relies heavily on shock humor, unfortunately the shock wears off quickly and the jokes never evolve, thus fails to get out of the starting gate. Yes it is funny the first time a Puppet swears or has raunchy sex, but by the time the 6th joke with a similar punchline rolls around it gets tiring. I will say I do respect the fact they do try to play the movie relatively straight, the main character acts as if he really is a bitter ex cop in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles even though he is indeed still a puppet and the effort deserves recognition. Sadly, it’s not enough to overcome the bad writing and repetitive humor the film is plagued with.
The acting is a mixed bag, Melissa McCarthy as Detective Edwards is really grating and I came to dread her scenes which is not a good quality for the human lead. It also proves to be a major detracting force that hurts a lot of the film. I do think that McCarthy can be very funny but just not in this. Joel McHale provides a hilarious performance as the douchebag FBI Agent Campbell and as always McHale elevates the film during his painfully short screentime. Maya Rudolph playing Bubbles the Secretary was another highlight of the human side of the cast, her character has some of the funniest scenes in the movie and again is very underutilized. The main highlight for me of the film and the puppet acting was Acclaimed Puppeteer Bill Beretta who voiced the puppet lead, Detective Phil Phillips. I think he does a really great job with the material given. The main character is supposed to be a tortured, gruff ex cop and Baretta’s performance portrays it hilariously and surprisingly convincing.
The main positive of the film for me was the puppeteering work. The puppets look great, move fluidly and express emotions very well considering their faces don’t move. Brian Henson certainly shares his father’s love of puppets and definitely shows similar talent for the art as well. I just really wish the story was there. It’s just a mediocre noir inspired Cop film with puppets and lame jokes. The story is my main issue with the film and through it the film commits a major sin, it’s boring. The fact that the film so boring underscores the fact that “The Happytime Murders” is disappointing on many levels on a creative level. Here we have this visually great puppet film that could have been something really special, funny and memorable but they just kind of squander it on a lot of sex jokes and continued bad shock humor.
Truthfully that’s really all I had to say about the film. I felt that it definitely does have its strong points but it’s negatives stop it from even touching it’s potential. I would like to see another puppet film with Henson at the helm and I think that this idea could be very interesting done correctly. They definitely have to get the right writers on board for it before any success can be had however. I hope that this film being so poorly received doesn’t ruin what could be an interesting Cinematic Universe.
As far as recommendations go, I would say I mean if it’s on Netflix and you have an hour and a half to spare, I say throw it on see if you like it or not. I don’t fault anybody for liking the humor in this I just don’t think it landed and I don’t think the film ever got out of first gear. I’ll go ahead and give it 5 out of 10 with a definite hope for a future film to fulfill the potential of the idea.