Released: 23rd August
Seen: 23rd August
Every so often, there’s a film concept that is basically tailor-made for me to enjoy more than most others. One of those concepts is “R Rated Puppets”, just the idea of a format usually aimed at children being used in a more adult fashion really tickles me. I delighted in watching my old VHS of Meet The Feebles so often that there would be notable signs of wear right around the time that Sebastian get’s on stage to sing about his love of Sodomy. I’ve seen Avenue Q twice and if another tour of the show comes around, I’ll gleefully be there and hum along while they sing about schadenfreude. So when I heard that the son of Jim Henson was going to be taking this on and doing an R rated buddy cop movie I was pretty much destined to enjoy it on some level… “Mid” counts as a level right?
The Happytime Murders is set in a world where puppets and human’s exist, but Puppets are on the lower rung of society and are basically there for entertainment and nothing else. Picture the society that was portrayed in Who Framed Roger Rabbit but replace the cartoons with puppets. In this world, Phil Philips is a private investigator and a former police officer. He’s the first and last puppet police officer, being expelled from the police and leading to all puppets being banned from the force after he didn’t shoot a bad guy quick enough and his partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) ended up being injured. Now Phil Philips is doing everything he can to make a check and his newest private investigation has him stumbling into a plot about a serial killer who is killing the puppet cast members of the TV series The Happytime Gang. It’s up to Phil and Connie to put aside their past and somehow solve this crime before too many good puppets get hurt.
The premise of this movie is really good and allows for a ton of great set pieces. There’s a large amount of potential here for some good jokes and even a little social commentary. It’s not lost on me that the puppet/human dynamic is a stand-in for racism in society in a similar vein to how Bright tried to do it earlier in the year, except this time it actually works a lot better because they don’t try and really justify it by suggesting puppets did something awful years ago, it’s just because they’re different. It creates an interesting dynamic between the puppets and the people, allowing them to tackle things like police indifference to crimes against minorities and… and that’s it. They never actually push this idea much further than Melissa McCarthy making one really poor taste joke at a crime scene and a couple of insults thrown out by Joel McHale. I really would’ve loved it if they could’ve pushed that a little more, actually shown how the cops didn’t care enough to try and solve the murders, push this racism analogy to it’s extreme… but they don’t, they kind of chicken out halfway through.
Where they don’t chicken out is the comedy, which works pretty well. You go into this movie expecting to see Puppets doing some adult things, that’s what you get. Seeing a puppet telling Melissa McCarthy that he’ll suck her dick is genuinely funny, mostly because the puppeteers are able to sell the hell out of their jokes. Sure their jokes are juvenile and disgusting and filthy and raunchy and wrong… to quote Francis from the movie Better Than Chocolate “Yeah, it’s obscene… THAT’S THE POINT!”. If you aren’t Ok with jokes that touch on taboo’s or push buttons or are just gross, then this isn’t a movie you’re going to enjoy. There are jokes about puppet sex, incest, drug use, pornography, everything and anything that crosses a line is here. Most of the jokes land pretty well and when they don’t, at least the puppet design is cool.
Plotwise, this movie is mostly your standard buddy cop film with all the beats you’d expect, down to the sudden twist reveal at the end. It definitely felt like there was more that could’ve been done, some things are there just to create a twist out of nowhere and some story threads get dropped for no reason. For the most part, it’s just what you would expect in an average buddy-cop movie, just with a few more jokes about ejaculation thrown in. I did like that they do set up the big twist at the end well. If you are paying close attention, it’s absolutely possible to figure out who the killer is and even work out the motive. Little things like that keep this movie from being bad and push it squarely into the “OK” category.
This film definitely isn’t quite as subversive as Meet The Feebles, I’d recommend that one over this movie by a mile, but The Happytime Murders delivers exactly what you expect it to do. It’s low brow, it’s dirty and it’s clearly just there to give a solid 90 minutes of brainless fun and that’s pretty much all it needs to be. It’s not the best, it’s not the worst, it’s a decent movie with some good ideas that it didn’t push far enough to make it something special. This feels like a movie you go see when it’s the cheap movie of the week and you wanna laugh at a puppet talking about getting their dick sucked. It’s fine, that’s all it needed to be.