The Happytime Murders is a crossover unlike most that you will ever see. Puppets living in a human world and interacting with humans isn’t all that unique. There have been several “Muppet” movies over the years that have been quite successful. It’s the R rating, matched with the puppet crossover that made it unique for me. That also made it intriguing because it opens up possibilities to do something that hasn’t been done before and create a very unique film. Instead we get a hard R comedy that lacked direction and anything remotely interesting.
When cast members from the “Happytime Gang” TV show start mysteriously dying, ex-cop and now P.I., Phil Phillips finds himself right in the middles of it. He and Detective Connie Edwards are forced to team up to try and solve this mystery. On its own the premise doesn’t sound any worse than most murder mysteries you’ll find on TV. Now add in that Phil is a Puppet, he’s trying to solve puppet murders and you get something that is so strange that it just might work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. In order to get past the strange premise of this movie the writing had to be flawless and that is the worst part of the movie. I bought into this world that writers Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson built. It was jarring at first to see the setup of puppets and humans in the same world but I was able to buy in to it. However, that was really all I could buy in to. The script was sloppy and unimaginative. There was nothing interesting enough to hold your attention or good enough to really sink your teeth into. Without a solid story the whole experience just felt absurd.
The screenplay falls short in about every area that a screenplay could. The characters weren’t great and lacked a clear backstory and motivation. The story didn’t have much continuity and didn’t make much sense at all. Worst of all, as a murder mystery, it didn’t work at all. I’m reluctant to even call it a mystery because the whole thing was pretty predictable. Murder mysteries are great because there are twists that fill the story with intrigue. The journey through discovering the mystery can be intense and fun. The Happytime Murders don’t have any of those things. The journey through this mystery was boring and predictable. Every place they showed up, a puppet either died or did shortly after. The police department turning on Phil was also predictable, as was the reveal of the killer. Each beat of this movie was predictable and uninteresting, which made a very short movie feel excruciating.
The Happytime Murders felt like a movie that was more interested in bits than it was a complete story. Each scene felt more like an opportunity for a bit than a chance to further the story. There were several bits that played a part in the story but were forgotten later on in the story. The story suffered because of this and made the whole thing feel disjointed. There were times when the bits worked and made for a fun scene but more often than not they didn’t work. Any scene that involved a cast member of the “Happytime Gang” is an example of this. Phil’s interaction with them didn’t really serve the story as much as it did whatever joke they were trying to get off. When the jokes didn’t land the scene felt over long and unfulfilling.
At it’s lowest The Happytime Murders is very bad, but there are glimmers of hope that kept me in the theater. Melissa McCarthy was good in this movie. She was fun to watch and provided a lot of the humor that worked. All of her puppet jokes were hilarious and there weren’t enough of them. Maya Rudolph was also good in her limited role. These two women brought a lot of the humor and helped make this movie pretty funny at times. That humor ends up being the real saving grace of the whole movie. There are some genuinely funny moments that hit all throughout the movie. Director Brian Henson leaned into the fact that puppets coexisting with humans is kind of ridiculous and his acknowledgment of that made the movie funnier. There was also some humor in the way that puppets are treated in this world. It takes some effective jabs at prejudice and that makes for some other good moments.
Overall, The Happytime Murders just isn’t very good. It is funny, but not funny enough to recommend it. It isn’t very fun or creative. Crossover movies, like this one, could be worth the watch because the crossover in and of itself is interesting but that isn’t the case here. Bad writing tanks what could have been a surprisingly good movie. Don’t see this, it’s not worth the price of admission.
1 1/2 Stars out of 5
Director: Brian Henson Writers: Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie David Baker & Joe McHale Release Date: August 24th Rated: R Runtime: 1 hour and 31 minutes Image Credit: Imdb via STX Entertainment