Not much of a comedy with dirty mouth with dirty dolls and even less of a buddy photo of a friend, The Happytime murders has a starting point that should have been a home run, but instead settles for a handful of ground ball laughers. With jokes that miss more often than they hit and gag a smile, instead of laughing, even at the very best, this adult-oriented experiment by Brian Henson (son of Muitet pioneer Jim Henson) does not stop the hassle, but the ingenuity to turn something that is unnecessarily worn into a satisfying experience is difficult.
The Happytime murders is set in an alternative reality of Los Angeles, where dolls are their own breed of living beings, walking and working among their human counterparts. It is a rough life for the felted and fluffy felts. Dogs are a constant threat to health and safety. They are constantly harassed and profiled by the police. Dolls often live in poverty and are discriminated against and bullied in human society. Shame ex-puppet-agent private-turned Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) tries to stand up for puppetry if he can, but usually he is washed up. While investigating a case involving a female puppet being blackmailed, Phil unconsciously gets caught up in a series of serial killings targeting the stars of a beloved 90s sitcom, including the detective's brothr. The police look at Phil for help, but insist that he collaborate with the human homicide agent Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), his former partner with the police, who was the reason he was kicked in the first place of the force.
It is funny at first to see a bunch of puppets using colorful language, engaged in bizarre sexual activities, and their heads explode in clouds of pillow poo after being blown away with a shotgun. I say "amusing" and not "funny" because the sight of these things clearly shows ingenuity and inventiveness, but not much of it is in the service of a script that is witty and smart enough to justify such an effort. The Happytime murders is a film with a lot of technical achievements, but every truly groundbreaking material has been thrown overboard in favor of an exhausting buddy premise that is played relatively straight. That is not only the case The Happytime murders not as hilarious as it could have been, but if someone appreciates his merits as action comedy, then it is bad for the border.
The script of Todd Berger (It's a disaster) has one of the most cliché driven, obvious and predictably predictable stories of a film this year; one who begs to be parodied and not accepted at first sight. While Henson does his best to refresh things with his ability to set up a gag, there is no salvage of such deadly boring material. No amount of unauthorized acts with puppets, jokes about sugar as a drug addict, offensive insults or violent outbursts could ever hide how little the script gives to creating a really entertaining and weird film. Even more insulting is a half-baked attempt to turn The Happytime murders in a kind of racial allegory, with puppets that function as people of color in America. It is a mixed metaphor to say the least, and one that is thrown overboard as soon as the mechanical serial murder plot comes into gear.
At a given moment something may have been here, but The Happytime murders feels compromised because of the creation of a safer, more affordable rate. The very mystery in the heart of Henson's film is so painfully stupid, endorsed and loaded plot hole that I kept hoping someone would turn around a switch, shut it down, and let the man and the puppet take over for ninety minutes all that is not the story. If they wanted a police movie to take the piss out, that would have been funny with a pop in one of the main roles, they should have gone a little closer Training day and not something creepy similar to the forgotten blindness Hollywood Homicide. The Happytime murders never gives the viewer a reason to show or feel for one of the characters or what they are going through. It is just the movements with zombie-like movement with the hope that the cast and tech crew can pull something out of their ass.
And to the honor of Henson (since then his first theatrically released excursion Muppet Treasure Island) and his cast they do their utmost to let go of the impossible. There are few artists who know their way around in a dictionary full of swear words and childish insults like McCarthy, and I mean that as a high form of praise. Making her opposite an equally hard-talking (but not so funny) doll is a tiny genius rap. The chemistry shown by McCarthy and her blue skin co-star manages to make some of the most horrible moments of the film perceptible. They deal appropriately as a few former best friends who return to their senses after years of each other and feel most of their best moments as ideas that the artists came up with on the spot. For McCarthy it is a less sloppy look at the same character in which she played The heat, and since a sequel to that sleeper hit (which was also a fairly standard buddy-police picture) seems unlikely to be the day, this may be the closest audience the actress sees as an unconstrained law enforcement official. That is a pretty sad statement.
The rest of man and the puppeteer do not have much to do. None of them has enough screen time to make an impact, such as The Happytime murders maintains a slavish loyalty to the formula while moving from point A to point B with minimal effort for storytellers. Maya Rudolph and Elizabeth Banks emerge as Phil's gentle secretary and his stripper ex, respectively. The latter has nothing to do, and the former has almost nothing to do, apart from an amusing but lame scene in which she works with McCarthy to break into the house of the suspected killer. The dolls are all cannon meat, except for Phil, where none of them gets more than one scene to shine before they completely disappear from the story. There is no other depth here than the core partnership. While that has its moments, and McCarthy and Barretta make it work as well as possible, no one else has a snowball effect in hell to make an impression here.
I can not say that I have not laughed during The Happytime murdersbut those moments of joy and cheerful provocations are fleeting. There is a good piece where a baptized McCarthy sits down on a bunch of criminal dolls. A montage where Phil cleans his partner's apartment is funnier than the right to be. Most of the viewing gags are worth a smile. All in all, all this does not match a good movie that will surely suffer in comparison with other shameful doll titles such as Meet the Feebles or Team America. Although a film about tough talking felt-ies does not have to be as extreme as those examples, such a concept at every level needs energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity to succeed. The cast and director do their part. It is simply a shame that the writers and producers are sleeping behind the wheel.
The Happytime murders will be opened in the cinema on Friday 24 August 2018.
View the trailer for The Happytime murders: