Hot Take: It’s embarrassing to admit but puppet vulgarity and raunchy puns found my funny bone. It reaches its shelf life about 2/3 of the way through but it’s funny enough.
Within minutes, The Happytime Murders earns that R rating. It’s well before a scene featuring an octopus milking a cow’s 8 utters to what appears to be sexual climax in the back room of an adult video store and that scene occurs in the first 20 minutes. Hopefully, that paints a picture of how obscene and inappropriate the Brian Henson (son of Jim Henson) directed pulpy, profane, puerile puppet whodunit laced with more foul language than the standard Andrew “Dice” Clay set is. It’s easy to see why critics would receive it so poorly and audiences could be turned off. However, I’m willing to admit I laughed audibly at times. The plot wasn’t awful though derivative and done before. The puppetry is impressive, the use of Melissa McCarthy works in the lead role (did I just say that?) and the supporting cast finds a way to not be completely overshadowed by the crass, uncouth puppets that star in the film.
The Happytime Murders follows Phil Phillips (puppeteer Bill Barretta), formerly the first puppet to become a cop but now a private dick after being fired from the force, who takes on the private investigation case to help Sandra (puppeteer Dorien Davies), a puppet who is being blackmailed because she’s an “ima” and I’d explain what an “ima” is but it’s really just an excuse to create a really vulgar, R rated damsel. Immediately, Phil goes to a local adult video store to try and figure out who is blackmailing Sandra and while there, the owner, two sex workers (the octopus and the cow), and former The Happytime Gang star Mister Bumblypants (puppeteer Kevin Clash) who is a rabbit addicted to porn are all gunned down while Phil is in the store’s office. Phil doesn’t hear anything going down because the sounds of one of the store’s movies drowns out all other sounds but is held as a witness. Enter Detective Connie Edwards (McCarthy), Phil’s ex-partner who turned on Phil when he failed to shoot a perp holding her at gunpoint and led the charge to have him booted from the force. Obviously, we know where this is headed right away as these two will be forced to work together to solve the case of The Happytime Murders. (It’s not murders at this point but you know where it’s headed.)
The story is secondary here as the puppet puns and vulgarity take the spotlight. Armed with a supporting cast of competent human comics including Maya Rudolph (as Phil’s secretary Bubbles), Leslie David Baker (as Lieutenant Banning, Connie’s current and Phil’s former boss), Elizabeth Banks (as Jenny, a stripper, Phil’s former flame and former cast member of The Happytime Gang) and Joel McHale (as an FBI agent who likes Phil for the murders) and skilled puppeteers, The Happytime Murders is an exercise in hits and misses with mostly misses but solid hits when it does find the target. They are all ridiculous and its unabashed vulgarity are initially shocking but quickly become the norm.
Let’s not get too carried away with The Happytime Murders and it’s willingness to cross sacred lines as we’ve already seen this before on television (Crank Yankers), on Broadway (Avenue Q) and at the cinema (Team America: World Police). It does push the envelope, though and doesn’t hesitate to go places most movies won’t. Plus, the sacred Henson name is attached as Jim Henson’s son Brian tries to make Henson Alternative, the “for adult” offspring from The Jim Henson Company, relevant. If critical and early audience opinion means anything, it’ll be an uphill climb. Personally, I didn’t hate The Happyime Murders but it’s easy to see the film’s loose stitching and exposed fluff.
Who doesn’t want to see two puppets f___?
Wait! Who wants to see two puppets f___?