'The Happytime Murders' Is a Waste of Excellent Puppetry

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click to enlarge 'The Happytime Murders' Is a Waste of Excellent Puppetry
STX Entertainment
I've been worshipping at the altar of the Henson family for as long as I can remember. The Muppets films are obvious childhood favorites, but movies like Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles, Toledo filmmaker Dustin Mills' The Pupppet Monster Massacre as well as South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America all provide wonderfully inappropriate puppet films for adults.

While all of the previously mentioned films utilize different forms of puppetry across varying budgets, they all have one thing in common — they're exponentially better than the trash fire of felt and disappointment better known as The Happytime Murders, which opens areawide today.

Raunchy, R-rated puppet fun isn't impossible, given the fact the Tony Award-winning musical, Avenue Q contains songs like "The Internet is For Porn" and "My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada," which ends on the line "I can't wait to eat her pussy again!" However, while Jim Henson's son Brian may have given us arguably the greatest Muppets movie of all time with Muppet Treasure Island, obviously, his foray into adult-themed puppetry with The Happytime Murders is a misfire on all counts.

The story is set in an alternative world where humans are known as "fleshies" and co-exist with puppets. Our tale focuses on a disgraced LAPD detective Phil Phillips (voiced and animated by puppeteer Bill Burette), who accidentally shot an unarmed bystander. Phil is a blue-skinned puppet, and the film does its very best to not-so-subtly relate the plight of blue-skinned puppets to that of people of color.

This set-up could absolutely be used to tell a poignant story about racism through the safety lens of using puppets rather than real people, but this concept was already done with Dustin Mills' Snuffet and was done with less than an-eighth of the budget of The Happytime Murders.

A star-studded cast of Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale and Elizabeth Banks isn't enough to save this stinker because the script is ultimately the core issue of the entire film. McCarthy is wholly underutilized yet again, and her usual jokes about her physicality have been replaced with jokes about her femininity.

Her character is consistently confused for a man (as a joke), but given the fact McCarthy is beautiful and never once presents herself as masculine throughout the film, the jokes fall flat. McCarthy commits like hell to her character, but it's starting to get painful watching one of the best comediennes of our time consistently brought down by lackluster projects.

The Happytime Murders feels like a kid taking Film School 101 saw a college production of Avenue Q and screamed "Hey, I got an idea!" This film is trying so hard to be edgy for the sake of being edgy that it takes a flying leap over the threshold of humor and splatters on the pavement of being painfully unfunny. The film is a stand-up comic pointing finger-guns at the audience after delivering a punchline; it's the class clown in junior high leaning back too far in his chair, desperately craving attention and validation.

The puppets aren't the problem in this film; it's the people who wrote the words and situations in which they're meant to play. It's possible to make gratuitous shots of puppet genitals funny or to make McCarthy biting a puppet dick hilarious, but The Happytime Murders fails to do both, and we're left with an audience sitting in uncomfortable silence.

The Happytime Murders is sure to be a huge hit with the same 12-year-old boys that threaten to fuck your mom over headset while playing Call of Duty and probably no one else. For an adult comedy, it's completely devoid of timing, wit, situational humor and originality.

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