Muppets? In an R-rated comedy? About Puppet Murders?? How has this not been a thing up until now?! Aside from the inspired stage musical Avenue Q and Peter Jackson’s cult classic Meet the Feebles (1989), there hasn’t yet been an adult subversion of the Muppet formula in a major studio comedy. Cue The Happytime Murders, a no-holds barred comedy crime-drama from former Muppets director (and son of Jim) Brian Henson.
Rude, crude and showcasing more fluff onscreen then the entire contents of the Sesame Street Workshop, The Happytime Murders sees human cop Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) team-up with puppet P.I. Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) to investigate a series of brutal murders in the Puppet community. Framed against a world where Puppets and Humans co-exist within a Los Angeles pulled straight out of old school detective movies, we soon discover Puppets are seen as inferior by the human community, and treated thusly. Throughout, we are introduced to the seedy underbelly of this community, with some nice touches added to expand and add dimension to this skewed version of our world.
However, the word fluff doesn’t just describe the contents of the colourful characters on screen. Once you get over the initial thrill of seeing Muppet-esque characters spewing foul obscenities and performing gross, over-the-top sex acts, it all becomes rather formulaic and underwhelming. There are hints towards a more subversive, satirical take on big themes like race and prejudice, but these go underdeveloped, ignored in favour of dick jokes and even more puerile humour. It doesn’t help that the central mystery is pretty uninvolving, a mere catalyst for the aforementioned jokes.
The film’s biggest crime is that it doesn’t stick to its guns. There are some fantastic gags that really push the envelope in terms of bad taste, which elicit the most laughs. But the filmmakers never quite go the whole way in this direction, instead relying on tried-and-tested expletives and Melissa McCarthy’s usual shouty-ranty persona that got old about six movies ago. Wherein there is opportunity for clever satire here, this direction is annoyingly pushed aside and ignored about 15 minutes in.
The film is a fantastic technical achievement, with a number of big-name Henson Company alumni contributing their skills to the creation of the film. There are some fantastic set pieces scattered throughout, and the design work is, for the most part, inspiring and imaginative. It’s just a shame that the film’s story and characters are not in keeping with the superb technical aspects we see here.
Not funny enough, not subversive enough, and not brave enough either, The Happytime Murders is frustrating in that it’s both technically brilliant and occasionally very funny. However, it squanders any big opportunity to be clever or make a point by resorting to the usual gross-out humour that every major comedy movie dabbles in these days.
All fluff and filler, The Happytime Murders isn’t exactly murder to watch, but certainly doesn’t guarantee a happy time.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale Director: Brian Henson Writer: Todd Berger Released By: STX Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 91 mins Release Date: 27th August 2018