It’s not a total bag of shit. But it is a mixed bag, and I suppose we must allow that there is some shit in that mix.
I have a certain admiration, and perhaps a higher tolerance, for movies that take risks and push buttons. But a movie like this is going to test even my boundaries, flimsy as they are.
It’s set in a Los Angeles where humans and puppets live together, though not exactly peacefully. The puppets are treated like second-class citizens. And despite the fact that they’re called puppets, there’s no acknowledgement that traditionally that word has referred to an object animated by a human hand up the puppet’s bum. These puppets are people, and their plight is a very interesting allegory for the African American experience. Unfortunately, the film makers keep up that thread for maybe 10 minutes before they drop it in favour of shock-factor antics.
And I get it. Who can resist making puppets do rude things? I LOVE Avenue Q, but Avenue Q has a message and a point. It’s well-written and cleverly delivered. The Happytime Murders derails itself with its lewd antics, and if they get a laugh, they also take away from the plot, which is thin to begin with.
The gist: The Happytime Gang was a TV show, and now someone’s murdering its cast one by one. Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and her ex-partner, puppet Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) have to overcome their history and a massive grudge to work together to save their friends.
But then: porn! So much puppet porn. And not the tasteful or vanilla, either. Puppets are in to some crazy stuff. Not to judge. But there were buckets of jizz, and puppet pubes, depraved bunnies, thirsty cows, and literal horn dogs. The murders are so much more sedate in comparison, puddles of stuffing rather than blood. It’s amazing, though, that something that sets out to be so shocking can so quickly become rather dull. One Sharon Stone-inspired puppet pussy shot is brilliant; repeating it can only reveal your lack of material.
The saddest thing, though, is the movie’s complete waste of funny ladies Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Banks. The script asks very little of them. McCarthy is relegated to sidekick status, and though she seems at ease among puppet costars, she doesn’t really get a chance to shine. If anyone, it’s Maya Rudolph who kind of steals the show as Philips’ long-suffering secretary, Bubbles, although it must be said that the puppetry is top-notch, and between you and I, I think I would have 100% enjoyed a documentary about the making of this movie better than the actual movie.
The Happytimes Murders is frequently disgusting, and often crude, but it’s not always bad. It’s not meant for everyone, but there was one woman in my screening who laughed like a hyena for the entire 91 minutes, so it does have its audience, it just may not be you. Or me. It goes out of its way to be ludicrous. If director Brian Henson (Jim Henson’s son) could hide in the theatre and poke you with a big puppet penis, he probably would. The movie was clearly made with glee and abandon, even if it isn’t always received that way by audiences. Personally, I just think it confuses lewd and dirty with entertaining a little too often, and for me that joke wore thin. But I won’t pretend I didn’t laugh occasionally – it was just usually the kind of laugh where you hide your own eyes in shame and hope that Grandpa isn’t watching from Heaven.