This film is a lot like “Sausage Party” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” had a lovechild…
“The Happytime Murders” takes place in a world where puppets and people co-exist, and follows a human cop (Melissa McCarthy) and a puppet private investigator (performed and voiced by Bill Barretta) that must solve a recent string of killings. Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale and Elizabeth Banks also star as Brian Henson, son of the late “Muppets” creator Jim Henson, directs.
This project went through a long development period. The film was first announced 10 years ago and featured numerous actors, including Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, rumored to star before McCarthy eventually signed on. The studio was also sued by the makers of “Sesame Street” but won rather quickly. The premise itself is somewhat amusing, playing up the “typically innocent things says bad words” (like “Sausage Party” did with animated movies) and mixing it with a world where fictional childhood beings interact as second-class citizens with people (like cartoons in “Roger Rabbit”). “Happytime Murders” is not as clever as the latter nor as funny as the former, but it does have enough going for it to give it the ever-so-slightest of recommendations.
I’m a sucker for most anything noir or set in Los Angeles and this film-at least for a while-plays up to those aspects as strengths. The early stages really do have a “Roger Rabbit” vibe to them (I hate to keep making that lazy comparison but it’s clear what the filmmakers were going for) and the puppeteer work is commendable. Brian Henson has been around Muppets all his life and even has directed a few of their films (most notably the ever-enjoyable “The Muppet Christmas Carol”) so he knows how to film puppets so their interactions with humans isn’t awkward and the framing is proper (some footage during the credits shows the extents the crew went through to get some shots, including raising sets and operating in greenscreen suits).
The comedy here is graphic and pretty one-note, as to be expected from the trailers. I personally thought this film looked painfully unfunny and one of those “R-rated films that swears and makes genital jokes just for the sake of it” romps and while I was completely right it isn’t as grating as one may think. I only laughed out loud a handful of times, and more than once it feels as if the delivery or phrasing of a punchline ruined a possibly clever joke, but the film is light and paced well.
McCarthy continues to be hit-and-miss with me and does once again show that she needs Paul Feig in order to give a genuine great performance, but she is (randomly) dedicated here and does provide a few chuckles. I personally like Joel McHale and he has a couple amusing moments with his normal d-bag shtick and it’s nice to see Leslie David Baker in something in this post-“Office” world.
Like, I don’t really know what you can expect from an R-rated neo-noir murder mystery raunch comedy involving puppets. It’s stupid and thin and really hopes you find puppets swearing funny for 90 minutes because it has little else in the tank. If the trailers or my description made you smile then this will certainly give you your late-summer fix but if you want to have a genuine great time and laugh a lot then I suggest you instead check out one of 2018’s best films, “Game Night.”
Critic’s Grade: C