Director Brian Henson explained in an interview that he hopes the wrong audience doesn’t accidentally see “The Happytime Murders.” So I have to ask: Who is “The Happytime Murders” meant for? Who is the target audience here? It certainly has aroused the ire and vitriol of Muppets fans, horror fans mostly dislike it, and it has inspired nothing but groans and eye rolls from comedy movie buffs, so who is this movie for, anyway? Despite Henson’s best efforts to pad the wet thud that is “The Happytime Murders” by labeling it a “guilty pleasure,” you’d have a much better time putting socks on your hands and barking random expletives to yourself.
In a world where humans and puppets share society, the puppet population is still a minority struggling to be taken seriously and be given equal rights. Phil Phillips is a hard boiled puppet detective assigned a case by a buxom puppet named Sandra. Once he goes picking his nose around, he’s accidentally involved in a large murder scene. He quickly begins to realize the murder is actually a series of coordinated hits being unleashed on the ex-cast members of a hit puppet show named “Happy Time.” Now paired with his ex-partner, human Connie Edwards, the pair form an unlikely partnership and uncover a weird labyrinth of secrets, drugs, and conspiracies.
Melissa McCarthy is horribly miscast as the co-star to a film where puppets basically the steal the show and “The Happytime Murders” is a misfire from the starting gate. Brian Henson is never quite sure who the straight man and who the comedic relief is, so McCarthy and her felt co-star are constantly bickering at one another and shooting weak one-liners back and forth. This leaves the movie to feel painfully awkward and incredibly limp in its delivery of a premise that’s one note and probably would have been better left for a YouTube Red series. Henson and co. are dealt McCarthy (inexplicably a big star at the moment), so rather than make her a straight man, she and character Phil almost seem to compete for the most laughs. To boot, a lot of “The Happytime Murders” bounces between a straight faced crime thriller and a satire of noir crime dramas.
The screenplay is never sure if it’s offering us an alternate universe tale or some kind of warped play on the gumshoe dime novel sub-genre. Pretty much all of the gags involving the puppets are flat and obvious. The cute puppets are perverts (a sex addicted rabbit ejaculates Easter eggs when he’s aroused) and or killers, and there’s the whole porn shop opening scene which is one giant yawn filled with puns and sight gags. There’s also the big sight gag, which Henson seems proud of in interviews, where the puppets spray silly string rather than semen whenever having sex. “The Happytime Murders” could at least be entertaining and engaging to compensate for the lack of laughs, but it can’t even accomplish that. I’m not sure why we had to have a big theatrical film based around a joke that’s one note and validates its existence in its entire runtime. You’re much better off watching stuff like “Meet the Feebles,” “Team America,” or “Ted” than this giant, festering, awful rip off of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”