The Happytime Murders

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This movie has a lot of things working against it. First, there have already been movies where we saw R-rated material with these types of characters — Ted, Team America, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Avenue Q to name a few. Second, it tries way too hard to shock, instead of trying harder to just make us laugh. Third, it’s another movie that just thinks having Melissa McCarthy do her agro schtick on everyone equals laughs. It just makes her obnoxious (although I will admit to laughing at her snorting sugar off a plate, using a Red Vine for a straw). And lastly, this is the type of movie critics love to tear apart. All those things are unfortunate, because it’s not quite as bad as the stuffy critics are going to say. And if you are smart enough to not bring kids to it just because it involves muppets (and even has Jim Henson’s son Brian directing), you’ll probably laugh enough that you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the thing. Most of my male friends like stupid action movies like The Fast and Furious, or whatever movie has the Rock jumping out of a burning or falling building. When I try to figure out why they like such garbage, they say “Sometimes I just like to turn off my brain and enjoy all the action.” That doesn’t work for me with dumb action pictures, but that logic does work with silly comedies, a category this falls into. My wife thinks it’s insane how much I loved Step Brothers. And she doesn’t understand why I was laughing during this movie either. But hey…if muppets are having crazy sex on screen, I’m not laughing at first. When we see one fly up against a glass door while people are in the lobby waiting…that’s a bit more amusing. When the scene climaxes with the best use of silly string ever — come on, I can’t help but chuckle. Yet the funnier scenes are when they don’t try for the crude humor. When Maya Rudolph (as a ditzy secretary named Bubbles), goes over to Melissa McCarthy’s apartment to talk to her and asks if she can have a banana that she sees on the counter…that’s funny. I can’t explain why it’s funny, it just is. Even funnier when they’re snooping around in the following scene, and she’s eating it. I wish the movie had more of those moments.

It’s a story that has a Raymond Chandler vibe. We get narration from the protagonist puppet Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta, who also did many of the Muppets characters, including everyone’s favorite — the Swedish Chef). That starts off interesting enough, but I just wished for more clever dialogue. Often times, it just reminded me of when Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay was in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane almost 30 years ago (although I only saw 20 minutes of that on HBO). The puppets are second class citizens, and we hear lots of barbs thrown their way. They do a few fun things with that. One of them involve Phillip’s brother who is a TV star on The Happytime Gang. With stardom, he gets a more human looking nose, and bleaches his skin whiter.

Philips used to be a cop, but he was fired after it was thought that he didn’t shoot another puppet (and he hit an innocent bystander). Hey…weren’t some of these the same themes in that horrible Netflix movie Bright? Anyway…he’s a private eye now, with flirty receptionist Bubbles, and the occasional sexy client. We suspect some might be up to no good.

Every time I had a 15 minute segment of enjoying this movie, they’d ruin it with an attempt at comedy that consisted of people just saying “F*** you” back and forth, or toilet humor.

I so wish this movie would’ve been funnier, but I laughed enough that I don’t feel I wasted my time. Just sitting here now, I can think of at least 10 things that made me laugh. A drugged out puppet turning tricks for drugs (well, sugar), offering to give you a “continental hot sock,” or when one puppet is threatened with prison, and is told what happens to puppets in prison. It involved being hollowed out, filled with rice, and then being “pilaf-ed.”

It’s a shame that Leslie David Baker (The Office) was underused. I’ve always loved his comedic timing. And Joel McHale was wasted in his role as the jerky FBI agent.

Perhaps the weirdest casting decision is the character of the drugged out Goofer puppet. He’s voiced by Kevin Clash, who was famous for creating and voicing Elmo, before being fired from Sesame Street for supposedly having sexual relationships with teenage boys. McCarthy has said in interviews that Clash was heavily involved in many aspects of this production. Hmmm…in this #metoo era, that seems like a baffling casting decision.

I’ll give the movie extra credit for using the most underrated ‘80s band — Bow Wow Wow — and their hit “I Want Candy” in the closing credits.

2 stars out of 5.

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