The conceit of The Happytime Murders might have made a half decent Saturday Night Live sketch but a good, even passable, feature film it does not.
Most frustrating is the sheer laziness of the script. Todd Berger’s screenplay seems to rely wholly on the inherent comedy of seeing puppets swearing, smoking and knocking furry boots, all the while neglecting to include many real jokes. The standard of ‘banter’ between mismatched partners Edwards (McCarthy) and Philips (Barretta) extends largely to ‘f*** you’ and ‘a**hole’, there’s a tired Basic Instinct spoof and the apparent showstopper is a silly string-based sex scene you either smirked or baulked at in the trailer. There are also a bewildering number of references to Edwards looking like a man – which she doesn’t.
The film attempts to subvert buddy cop and film noir tropes, but just transposing puppets into those scenarios isn’t enough to make them fresh and interesting. Even the fuzzy characters themselves are disappointing, mostly just people or animals rather than original, memorable creations like Gonzo or Animal. What’s more, you could make The Happytime Murders with an entirely human cast and very little would actually change.
As a vehicle for McCarthy, a clearly brilliant comedic actress, it’s also a letdown. Her character is shouty, dull and frankly unlikeable. Master Muppeteer Barretta is better served, and Maya Rudolph elevates her supporting role. The only saving grace is the undeniable ingenuity and skill of the puppeteers, but some behind the scenes footage of them at work is unfortunately more entertaining than virtually everything preceding it.
Lazy, unfunny and a waste of comedic potential, it’s also a dead loss as a murder mystery. You’d be better served rewatching any of the Muppets films instead. To paraphrase Muppet Show legends Statler and Waldorf: that wasn’t half bad, it was all bad.
CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Barretta
DIRECTOR: Brian Henson
WRITERS: Todd Berger (screenplay), Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson (story)
SYNOPSIS: In the underbelly of Los Angeles, where puppets and humans coexist, two clashing detectives are forced to work together again to solve the brutal murders of the former cast of a beloved classic puppet television show.