The Happytime Murders (2018)


“It’s their world and we just live in it.”

The Happytime Murders exemplifies how looks can temporarily kill as well as how they ultimately fade. The puppetry work here is outstanding, so much so that it’s often easy to forget that most frames pack about twice as many people on the actual set, carefully cloaking the humans behind the voices and the gestures of the many characters through camera placement and thoughtful production design. It’s rich in craft, and sadly, quite incredibly poor in spirit. Is it the worst movie of the Summer? I’d argue no simply because a picture like this one takes obvious skill to make. But it’s still thoroughly disappointing to say the least.

Set in a seedy, chew them up and spit them out, fiendish and fictional version of Los Angeles, The Happytime Murders shows us a world where puppets have gone from heroes to zeros. No longer entertainers, most become drug-addled, homeless squatters and societal castaways. They’re persecuted and oppressed in a world that doesn’t consider them to share the same equity as humans. In this respect, the film reaches for and stumbles upon a startling bit of timely subtext, and then it abruptly changes course to be so crass and so relentlessly predictable that its obscene attitude becomes lethargic and banal.

Once the first puppet on the police force, the disgraced Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) now slums around as a private investigator. A new, admittedly wanton client walks through his office door and instigates a string of events and a grotesque amount of silly string ejaculation (yes, that’s serious). Puppets are being killed at an alarming rate – again, the film offers depictions of minority fears without adding thoughtful commentary – and Philips has to reteam with his old partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). A series of murders ties everything into a big game of Clue, deducing who in the old hit 90’s program “The Happytime Gang” is out for blood as each cast member gets offed one by one. Philips and Edwards resist having each other’s backs until they’re forced. She bites his dick in a hot tub while fighting. He gets her in trouble with his unorthodox ways. The Happy Murders becomes an absolute mess once it turns the page towards the buddy-cop chapter of this extreme sex comedy.

There’s nothing subversive about this script. It’s full of gags and grotesque and puppets being blown up into pillow stuffing. And although it’s been crafted by true technicians who’ve clearly honed their line of work, the story from Todd Berger seems to have been written by someone whose attempt was to blend the brilliance of L.A. Confidential, the punch and dodge banter of Lethal Weapon, and the sexual appetite of Boogie Nights into a singular product. The Happytime Murders has a few laughs, but there aren’t enough available to approve of director Brian Henson’s completely misguided take on a perverse puppet world that doesn’t define itself or make much sense, and worst of all, doesn’t utilize its full potential either. This is pawn shop material.

“You fell for every trap.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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