The crime here is not the murders but the movie. Wholly unfunny and a waste of a good cast and about fifty pounds of fluff, The Happytime Murders is a disappointment any way you look at it. Melissa McCarty costars with Jim Henson’s muppets, though not the ones who reside on Sesame Street, in a whodunit about private eye and disgraced detective Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) and his former partner, Connie Edwards. The two reteam to solve a series of murders of actors from The Happytime Gang TV show, but the deeper they dig, the more personal the case becomes for Phil.
Many a movie has used this plot before, and it is executed well enough here. At first, it seems like someone is targeting the cast members because of an upcoming syndication deal, but the motive is thrown into question with the deaths of more muppets. Perhaps it has to do with the actors’ less illustrious post-show choices, which include drug dealing and incest. Regardless, Phil feels obligated to get to the bottom because his brother, Larry (Victor Yerrid), and human ex-girlfriend, Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), were part of the Happytime Gang.
This murder mystery comes with the standard set of red herrings and plot twists, but let’s be honest; no one’s watching because they want to see Marlowe in puppet form. Instead, what they really want to see are horny muppets, as promised by the trailer, and oh boy, we need to be more prudent about our wishes. There’s muppet office sex, muppet porn, muppet masturbation. One of the first scenes takes place in a sex shop that caters to muppets, a place I’m sure humans frequent as well, and you have at once rabbit Mr. Bumblypants checking out the dildo collection while a cow-octopus porn films in the backroom. It shocks, it’s amusing, and it pushes the limits, but then what? The novelty of profane puppets quickly fades, and there’s not much beneath the surface. In fact, I laughed a lot more during the outtakes. The movie is unlike, say, Sausage Party, a similarly inane idea involving horny foodstuffs that proves far more purposeful with its humor.
That doesn’t mean the writers don’t try to instill a sense of a bigger picture. There are attempts to comment on discrimination, racial, sexual, and otherwise. Phil and his fellow muppet-kind are treated with contempt in many quarters with his dismissal from the police force leading to a moratorium on muppet officers. Meanwhile, Connie has a bit of an existential crisis, thanks to her muppet liver. It’s nowhere near as funny or poignant as Gary and Walter’s “Man or Muppet” meditation from The Muppets. Also it’s not in song form.
It’s hard to get attached to either her or Phil despite the strong estranged buddy cop dynamic at work. McCarthy tries her damnedest to liven up the proceedings, but it’s like she’s performing on an entirely different wavelength. She’s punchy as ever, quick with her verbal jabs at Phil and everyone else who crosses Connie, but he’s so dry and cynical, willing to take hit after hit like the boozy, depressed private eye that he is. Probably the one redeeming thing here is my newfound and rather disturbing delight in muppet murder. I could watch a few more of those to be honest. I mean, just so much fluff.
Prod: Brian Henson, Jeffrey Hayes, Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone
Dir: Brian Henson
Writer: Todd Berger
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie David Baker, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Victor Yerrid
Time: 91 min
Country: United States