The Hippo


Jun 1, 2020








The Happytime Murders

The Happytime Murders (R)
Film Reviews by Amy


A private detective, who is also a puppet, helps his former police partner (a human) investigate a series of puppet killings in The Happytime Murders, a fairly straightforward procedural that is only anything because of the word “puppet.”
Phil Philips (voice of Bill Barretta) is the same cranky private investigator you’ve seen a million times before, one with a bottle of booze in his desk drawer and a world-weary voice-over. A shooting gone wrong ended Phil’s career as a police detective — the first puppet police detective — and now he works in a seedy office in Los Angeles, helped by his loyal human secretary, Bubbles (Maya Rudolph). 
In classic detective-story siren style, the red-headed puppet Sandra (voice of Dorien Davies) asks him to investigate an attempt to blackmail her, which leads Phil to a puppet adult entertainment store where he narrowly misses witnessing a shooting. The police arrive along with Phil’s former human partner and former friend Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). Edwards is still convinced Philips didn’t protect her during the shooting back when they worked together. But when Philips suddenly finds himself connected to yet another puppet murder, Edwards and Philips are ordered to work the case together by Edwards’ lieutenant (Leslie David Baker).
And, minus “puppet,” the above could be the description of the first episode of some CBS procedural. Which is basically what this movie feels like when it isn’t giving us prostitute puppets, puppet porn or puppets getting high on sugar and maple syrup.
While viewing this movie, my thoughts went something like this: “ugh, is this whole thing going to be a puppets swearing joke?” then “or a puppets being X-rated joke?” to “this feels less ‘noir’ and more just ‘dated’” to “Maya Rudolph can be fun even with blah material” to “Melissa McCarthy is just doing her The Heat character” and “why didn’t they just make a sequel to The Heat?” finally to “I guess a meh Melissa McCarthy movie is better than no Melissa McCarthy movie.” For, like, a minute, McCarthy in angry The Heat mode and Rudolph’s secretary (who seemed to be a riff on Guys and Dolls’ Adelaide) worked together to investigate a possible lady villain. This should have been the movie, I thought. Get rid of the puppets and instead play with the noir elements. A movie where McCarthy and Rudolph team up in a seedy, bottom-of-the-showbiz-barrel version of L.A. — that would have been more fun and potentially more daring than dirty puppets.
The problem with the puppets is that, with a few exceptions, most of the jokes boil down to the same joke — that it’s funny to see children’s-TV-show-style plush puppets doing seedy things. (And is it? Eh. Maybe it’s a minor chuckle the first of the eleventy bazillion times the movie makes such a joke.) A few of the jokes riff, LEGO Movie style, on the physicality of the puppets themselves and some of these work slightly better. Quickly, however, the puppets lose their comedic value. 
For the second half of the movie, all of the characters could be humans and it wouldn’t really matter significantly to the story.  At most, their puppet-ness just serves as lazy shorthand for any marginalized group. In some scenes, I kind of forgot about the puppets all together.
So what I’m saying, I guess, is that the entire premise of this movie is dumb and kind of irrelevant to the story being told. And yet I didn’t hate The Happytime Murders and actually, by the end of it, I found myself almost enjoying the chemistry between McCarthy and Barretta’s Phil. And McCarthy and Rudolph. And McCarthy and Joel McHale, who shows up to play an unlikeable FBI agent. So basically, I enjoyed McCarthy, who deserves much better material than this but makes it hard to thoroughly dislike even middling efforts. The Happytime Murders joins so many other movies from this summer in the pile of things that are kinda dumb but not without their moments. C
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material, according to the MPAA. Directed by Brian Henson (son of Jim) with a screenplay by Todd Berger, The Happytime Murders is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed by STX Entertainment. 

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