‘The Happytime Murders’
Directed by Brian Henson
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph
“The Happytime Murders” is supposed to be a comedy, or so it seems, but unless you’re positively bowled over by the idea of puppets engaged in scatological and violent behavior there are about as many laughs to be had as there are at your garden variety funeral.
Of course, if you do find the notion of puppet sex and violence so screamingly hilarious that you’ve had the release date of “Happytime Murders” circled on your calendar for weeks and weeks, you’d still be better off staying home and ordering up some of the better movies to do the same exact “edgy” routine, years ago.
“Team America: World Police,” for example, was doing this same exact thing (albeit with marionettes, rather than knockoff Muppets) in 2004, not to mention Peter Jackson and his cult favorite “Meet the Feebles” in 1989.
Really, there’s almost no use of your time that wouldn’t be more productive than wasting it watching this jaw-dropping disaster, a movie that’s so painstakingly unfunny while being convinced of its inherent hilarity that it transitions from being run-of-the-mill bad to downright contemptible.
The plot offers a perfunctory riff on the exhausted buddy cop formula, which is fine and dandy, you see, because, you know, puppets are funny.
The puppet Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) once integrated the all-human LAPD but got fired when he killed an incident bystander while trying to save his human partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy, who coproduced this movie, has made a lot of garbage and yet still deserves better. Also: Free Elizabeth Banks and Maya Rudolph, for heaven’s sake.).
Now, Phil has bottomed out, turning into a hard-boiled private investigator and, in the surprise of the century, finds himself partnering back up with Connie as the puppet stars of the classic TV show “The Happytime Gang” are murdered one by one.
Drug-addled has-been puppets with names like “Mr. Bumblypants” are introduced and discarded (remember, their drug addictions are screamingly hilarious because they are puppets). Connie and Phil joust and bicker, only to be lectured by “The Office’s” Leslie David Baker as the taciturn lieutenant.
The one good gag — which I am sorry to report is puppets exploding into fluff as they are murdered or torn apart by dogs — is repeated ad nauseam. It garners a chuckle or two at first and stupefied silence thereafter. The same goes for the extended sex scene, which just keeps going and going and going, because, again, in the apparent mindset of director Brian Henson (yes, Jim’s son) and screenwriter Todd Berger, we don’t expect to see puppets doing this stuff, so therefore it counts as edgy and smart.
Maybe it’s delusional to have anticipated something more out of “The Happytime Murders” (which is getting a very conspicuous late August release), than least common denominator, pandering junk. But it sinks to depths far below even the most liberal and relaxed of expectations. It is desperate to get you to laugh, so convinced of its cleverness, and so much of a failure on those fronts that it is nothing short of agonizing.