Film Review: The Happytime Murders

Brian Henson goes for shock value in this noir-inspired tale of pervy puppets. The only thing shocking is how bad it manages to be.
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There’s one group, and one group only, that I would recommend see The Happytime Murders, the debut feature film of The Jim Henson Company’s adult-focused subsidiary Henson Alternative. That group is the people who made Sausage Party, because it should give them a real ego boost that someone managed to make a worse “What if this thing you didn’t expect to have sex had sex?” movie than they did.

Everyone else: Stay far, far away.

Puppets drink, smoke, curse, kill and get down with flesh and felt partners alike in this dumb-as-bricks “comedy,” which takes your basic noir structure and adds puppets and a whole lot of bodily fluids. If you expect the humor to be any smarter or more original than “Hey, look, this puppet has pubes!,” you’re going to walk out disappointed.

But hey—all the jokes aren’t about puppets doing (gasp) adult things—which, with the risqué early Muppets and the more recent Team America: World Police and Meet the Feebles, isn’t exactly that novel a concept to start with. We also get jokes about how Melissa McCarthy’s characterDetective Connie Edwards, paired with her puppet ex-partner Phil (Bill Barretta) to find out who’s been picking off the cast of an old puppet TV show, called “The Happytime Gang”—is mannish. If you agree that that doesn’t qualify as a joke, per se, I’d recommend spending your time on any movie funnier than The Happytime Murders. Which is pretty much all of them. Maybe try the work of Michael Haneke?

Connie and Phil’s investigation runs them through the typical noir tropes: the femme fatale, the double-cross, the unhelpful authorities. Bewilderingly, from the lack of jokes in long stretches of the film, it appears that the screenwriter actually intends audiences to be someone engaged in the dull, predictable mystery plot Happytime spins. Admittedly, it could just be that there are jokes peppered throughout these more serious segments, only they were so bad they didn’t even register. When a movie relies on the corny old “Assholesayswhat?” routine not once, not twice, but three times, it’s fair to say it’s operating on a different definition of what constitutes comedy than the rest of the world.

Repeating an unfunny joke, whether it’s a schoolyard staple or “Hur hur, this puppet has a penis,” for 91 minutes doesn’t make the joke funny. It just makes the movie feel longer than 91 minutes. Much longer. (Unlike puppet penises! See? It’s not funny.) The only thing novel about The Happytime Murders is just how bad it manages to be. The jokes fail to land 99% of the time. The plot is boilerplate and the characters are cardboard. Even the needle drops—“Never Gonna Give You  Up” and “Sexy and I Know It,” really? —serve as conspicuous reminders that you’re watching a film that’s taken years to make it to the big screen. And for what? A joke about “puppet chicks with puppet dicks”? It’s time to kill the music and dim the lights on this one.