Make no mistake, “The Happytime Murders” is not a Muppet movie. Sure, the puppets look like they just wandered in from “Sesame Street,” but the latest Melissa McCarthy film takes place a few blocks away in a much worse part of town.
Set in a Los Angeles where humans and puppets co-exist—imagine “Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s” Toontown with hand puppets—“The Happytime Murders” is an R-rated comedy that sees the felt cast members of ’80s children’s TV show “The Happytime Gang” systematically murdered by a mysterious killer.
Next on the hit list is Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), a burlesque dancer who was the “The Happytime Gang’s” sole human cast member. She’s also the ex-girlfriend of Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), the first puppet to join the LAPD. After a scandal pushed him off the force he became a private investigator but when his older brother and “The Happytime Gang” actor, Larry (Victor Yerrid), is offed, and with Jenny in danger, he teams up with his former partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to find the puppet serial killer. “If it gets crazy,” he says, “I’m going to get crazy.”
Repeat after me, “The Happytime Murders” is not a movie for kids. With the first F- bomb less than thirty seconds in, the tone is set early. By the time we get to the puppet porn shoot and McCarthy snorting ecstasy with down-on their-luck puppets it’s abundantly clear this isn’t your father’s Muppet movie. Trouble is, I’m not sure who it is for. The idea of a raunchy puppet flick isn’t new, “Meet the Feebles,” “Team America” and others have put the ‘R’ in marionette with great success but they did it with wit as well as in-your-face vulgarity. In “The Happytime Murders,” easily the least funny comedy to hit screens this year, the laugh lines mostly get laughs because we’re not used to seeing puppets in… er… ahhh… compromising positions. Watching McCarthy and Maya Rudolph, who plays Phil’s love struck secretary Bubbles, flounder in a sea of felt and unfunny “gags,” is almost as sad as seeing the vaunted Henson name in the opening credits.
You know when someone constantly swears just for the sake of swearing? That’s shock value. “The Happytime Murders” is all shock, very little value.