It’s important to admit your biases when you’re a film writer. We all have a few blind spots and pet peeves that annoy us, but it’s important to give each new movie a fair shot. Perfect example: six months before it came out I was certain that The Lego Movie would be a piece of junk. I was 100% positive about this. Then the movie showed up, it was awesome, and I re-learned a valuable lesson: you just don’t know until you’ve seen the entire movie. I told you that so I could tell you this: something about this raunchy R-rated non-Muppet Muppet movie irritated me from the word go.
Maybe it’s because it’s Jim Henson’s own son directing this thing, or maybe it’s because I’ve already seen the “raunchy puppet” hook in Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles and Parker & Stone’s Team America: World Police. Let’s just say I was not exactly excited to check out The Happytime Murders. But since I pride myself on being a professional — and I have absolutely no problem admitting when I’m wrong — I sat down and got to work.
The possibility that I’d end up liking The Happytime Murders ended within the first five minutes of this grating, desperate, ugly misfire. What could have been a weird, funny, vulgar combination of Sausage Party and that clever old Fox sitcom “Greg the Bunny” hits the screen with all the creativity of a 6-year-old who just discovered the words dick, pussy, and fuck. There needs to be something of value in between all of the “oh so shocking!” sequences of puppets behaving grossly sexual, but the director has no interest in anything like that. The creators of The Happytime Murders are more than content to deliver nothing more than a litany of dirty jokes — which would be fine if even one of the jokes was funny. The most creative thing on display here is an octopus jerking a cow off.
The flimsy film noir plot follows a puppet detective and a human cop (Melissa McCarthy, visibly bored throughout) who must find out who’s killing a bunch of former puppet TV stars. This nonsense lurches from scene to scene with little in the way of logic or continuity, stopping (frequently) to deliver yet another desperate joke about pubic hair, bodily fluids, or (once again) puppets that have sex. Frankly, the screenplay feels like a first draft written by a child who’s not exactly sure how genitalia works but sure loves mashing his dolls together. (Check out the writer’s It’s a Disaster, which is an infinitely better dark comedy.)
The Happytime Murders is so aggressively ugly, garish, and mean-spirited that one can’t help but think Brian Henson has a serious grudge against his late father’s creations. (Let’s face it; there’s no reason that these puppets have to look precisely like the Muppets.) Had there been a plot worth following or a few characters worth caring about — Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, and Elizabeth Banks wander through scenes like they lost a bet — then a handful of raunchy gags might have been great. Instead, The Happytime Murders just cuts from set piece to set piece, clearly under the assumption that “kids’ stuff” plus “violence and vulgarity” is automatically hilarious and somehow a unique idea. It is not.
The film’s biggest sin is basic redundancy. Shock value gags work best in short, sharp blasts. The Happytime Murders is nothing but ostensible shock gags, which gets repetitive real quick, plus very few of the gags are actually funny. Loud and gross but rarely funny;
The only reason this thing even exists is because Sausage Party made some money and then someone else thought a puppet version could also turn a profit. Considering I was one of only four people in the theater on opening night, I’m guessing that person was mistaken.
Updated to correct score.