REVIEW: ‘Happytime Murders’ is a contender for worst of 2018

The concept of “The Happy Time Murders” was introduced around 2008 and over the next decade, the movie idea wandered in development hell. With its release this weekend, maybe it should’ve stayed there.

“The Happytime Murders” takes place in a world where puppets exist and live among humans. The film focuses on Phil, a puppet who after leaving the Los Angeles Police Department, became a private detective. In his latest investigation, he comes across a larger case than he expected.

Phil (Bill Barretta) soon learns that there are murders taking place, with the victims being cast members of a popular TV show. Even more significant is that Phil was very close with some of the cast. As he starts investigating, he’s forced to work with his former police partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy).

Looking at the story, “Happytime  Murders” doesn’t offer all that much. For the most part, it’s your fairly straightforward approach to a mystery/buddy cop type of film.

There are a few interesting details added to the film, with puppets basically taking the place of minorities, as they experience discrimination, and by adding narration it does appear somewhat like a comedic take on the noir genre.

However, these aspects pale in comparison so much to the other attempts at comedy that they don’t add too much to the overall product. So, along with a weak story, the movie’s more interesting elements are benched.

Maybe the worst part about the picture, though, is the humor. The bottom line is that comedies should be funny, and this one really wasn’t. There are a few early chuckles, but the comedy here just feels so one-note.

The main attempt at humor is basically ‘look at these puppets do things they normally wouldn’t in children’s television.’ There are raunchy sex jokes as well as violent displays where puppets get shot and the stuffing goes flying. Yet, the novelty wears off pretty quick, and the comedy feels repetitive.

Plus, there’s not even that much novelty to this idea. Comedy Central had the show “Crank Yankers,” which used puppets. Then, Dave Chappelle on his program “Chappelle’s Show” had an entire sketch dedicated to the concept of raunchy puppets.

As for the acting, the performances aren’t all that special. Joel McHale is forgettable and McCarthy plays a caricature that she’s portrayed in other flicks. The puppetry is good, but honestly, that’s to be expected. If you’re making a theatrical release with a movie about puppets, the budget had better go toward that aspect.

The movie also doesn’t have a very memorable look. For a take on the detective, noir genre, the lighting is very bright. Making the film darker could’ve driven the point about being a satire home more.

Maybe if the movie had played it more straight forward, it would have been a more interesting and funnier experience. But it feels like this was just a lazy comedy that only went after low-hanging fruit.

Hell, even the 2016 animated movie “Sausage Party” had humor that wasn’t just based around the raunchy stuff. That movie actually had some good satire directed at religious zealots and geopolitical situations. There was some thought behind it. Unlike what’s presented here.

Could this have worked as a sketch? Possibly. But for a full length feature, it needed something more than just puppets doing gross things. Getting through the whole thing felt like a chore. 1 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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