Join Soundtrack Stream to Research the article “The Happytime Murders review – puppet comedy is stuffed with unfunny jokes | Melissa McCarthy”
The Happytime Murders may not be this summer’s funniest movie. It may not be the smartest, or the most imaginative, or even, fundamentally, coherent. But it is most assuredly this summer’s only movie in which the plot hinges on the graphically depicted pubic hair of a nymphomaniac puppet.
So, if you see only one movie in which the plot hinges on the graphically depicted pubic hair of a nymphomaniac puppet this summer, then maybe it’s time to re-examine your remarkably specific cinemagoing priorities.
Director Brian Henson’s The Happytime Murders, a long-in-development feature from the adult-geared Henson Alternative arm of his father Jim Henson’s famed kiddie production house, is a one-joke premise with a punchline that’s already been told elsewhere, and more sharply. Viewers may think they know the full story of their stitches-and-stuffing playthings, but these are not your grandfather’s Saturday-morning pals. These puppets curse as if they’re going out for a regional theatre production of Goodfellas. They get a cokey high from ingesting sugar, railing fat lines of glittery purple glucose through liquorice straws. They don’t just have sex – they ejaculate Silly String, and in herculean quantities seldom seen outside the world of hardcore pornography.
It’s all in keeping with a felt-noir bete noire that limply juxtaposes the whimsical and the lurid. In a Los Angeles where puppets live as second-class citizens alongside flesh-and-blood humans, there’s a serial killer on the loose picking off the washed-up alumni of a beloved sitcom. Fuzzy, blue, hard-drinking ex-cop Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta) happens to be on the scene for the first slayings, and takes it upon himself to clear his name by unravelling the conspiracy. The investigation crosses his path with that of his former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), forcing the two into a reluctant reunion and leading them through the typical gumshoe tropes. Perhaps the redheaded femme fatale introduced in the first act has something to do with these killings?
It sounds like a jaunt down the crack alley behind Sesame Street, the precise phrase used to sell MTV2’s delightfully deranged Wonder Showzen and then trotted out once more for the profane Broadway smash Avenue Q. Though maybe The Happytime Murders owes more to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which did the whole “mixed-medium Chinatown” bit two decades prior, and with twice the wit. Or to Meet the Feebles, an all-but-lost early work from Peter Jackson that exposed the (literally) seamy underbelly of children’s entertainment and cleared the way for the likes of Death to Smoochy and BoJack Horseman. This script, having inexplicably spent a decade-plus in various stages of pre-development, has been cobbled together from better ideas other people have already thought of. There’s a bleak poetic irony to that being the chief issue with a movie about reconstituted toys arguing for their legitimacy as living things.
Though that’s just one component of a larger, more comprehensive network of mistakes. It’s not enough for Henson to ransack the X-Rated Muppet Joke Book, he also bungles the delivery. Even as the storyline tromps through the sleazier side of showbiz, it never pushes its darker impulses through to the howling, hysterical madness festering just beneath the shiny surfaces of Tinseltown. It instead compromises with gross-out gags that miss the “amusing” mark and land closer to “nauseating”. A snippet of a BDSM flick in which a puppet Dalmatian tortures a human fireman is worth a chuckle; an extended bit about the inbred children of an unholy brother-sister romance, less so.
Perhaps all of this dysfunction might approach the so-bad-its-good realm of morbid curiosity, if not for the half-baked bid at racial commentary fleetingly suggested in the first act and abandoned within the first hour. (The allegorical leanings of Bright have never looked so tactful.) Or maybe it’s the questionable mechanics of the grand scheme, revealed in the denouement to make nary a lick of sense. Or maybe it’s just that the film is brutally, oppressively, exhaustingly unfunny. Except, that is, to viewers who find octopus-on-cow octuple-handjob money shots humorous. They are in luck.
As with all overwhelmingly poor movies, it’s the delicate confluence of many varied factors that creates the critic’s familiar feeling of despairing hopelessness in the cinema. Late summer always brings one or two of these misfortunes, aborted releases unloaded while the world’s on holiday and the blockbusters rest dormant. Still, to young viewers – or adults, for that matter – with curiosities piqued by posters of Melissa McCarthy mean-mugging alongside her googly-eyed pal: turn back now, before it’s too late. Once seen, the never-ending stream of yarn semen cannot be unseen.
- The Happytime Murders is released on 24 August
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Happytime Murders review – puppet comedy is stuffed with unfunny jokes | Melissa McCarthy