The Happytime Murders (Brian Henson, 2018)
In a Trump ridden, post-Brexit world it’s safe to say we need more fun. We focus so much of our daily lives on the mundane or the shambles of the globe, that cinema creates the perfect environment for anyone and everyone to zone out of reality for a couple of hours and immerse yourself into a beautiful fictional world…
If you are searching for such an escape, do not watch The Happytime Murders.
The art of puppetry began in the 5th Century in Ancient Greece with the intent to communicate the needs of human societies through entertainment. Of course, in more recent popular culture puppets sing at Christmas in The Muppets Christmas Carol (Henson, 1992) and teach children the correct names for the primary colours in Sesame Street. However, someone somewhere in the distant land of Hollywood decided puppets now need to be focussed at an adult audience, perhaps a film where sex, drugs and murder are the foundations of hysterics and Melissa McCarthy has a puppet liver.
(Yeah, you read that right).
The film’s narrative follows Phil Phillips (voiced by Brain Barretta), a puppet disgraced ex-cop trying to get by in a world where puppets and humans co-exist. When cast members of an old hit TV show The Happytime Gang start getting murdered, Phillips is forced to team up with his ex-partner Connie Edwards (McCarthy). Of course, at first they hate each other - fighting in hot tubs and cursing at each other on the streets of L.A. - but then they are reminded why they were friends and begin to have each other’s backs.
So, other than the puppets, why is the film so shockingly bad? Let me tell you.
The comedy in The Happytime Murders is not clever or witty. It is schoolboy humour focussing on sex and profanity. The writers have placed puppets in human situations and expected the comedy to flourish itself, not focussing their efforts on the script or screenplay. Unfortunately, taking colourful puppets and characterising them as sleazy guys in a strip club does not make for an entertaining scene.
Furthermore, the narrative itself is uninspiring. The outcome of the plot is as predictable as the jokes. McCarthy seems to attract parts which are rouge, out of control characters that always end up finding empathy, overcoming their selfishness and saving the day. Think about it: The Heat (2013), Identity Thief (2013), Tammy (2014)…You see McCarthy in the film’s trailer and you know what the movie will be. No surprises there.
The plot also overlooks some characters which have narrative potential. Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) is set up to simply be Phillip’s secretary, dressing in mismatched patterns and sporting a lovely perm, she is odd but forgettable. However, in one scene, where she and Edwards break into a suspect’s house, she knows to pick a lock. And she does it pretty quickly! As a member of the audience you are eager for more of Bubbles from this point in the movie, is she an ex-con? Does she have some skeletons in her closet? What is her obsession with bananas? Bubbles is evidently not just the stereotypical secretary character the writers would have you believe her to be.
The cast list for The Happytime Murders shocked me, are there really this many well-known actors and actresses desperate for roles in Hollywood? For example, Elizabeth Banks who in the film plays Jenny Peterson, an out of work actress turned stripper. Banks is probably best known for her role in The Hunger Games (as Effie Trinket, 2012-2015), as Betty Brant in three of Marvel’s Spiderman films (2002-2007) and for her work producing, directing and starring in all three Pitch Perfect movies (2012-2017). Why is Banks in this trainwrek of a production? I would really like to know.
Overall, I would not recommend The Happytime Murders. The immature humour and predictable plot forced four people to grab their bags and leave the screen I was in (it really was that bad). Hopefully Hollywood bosses will leave puppets for junior audiences for the time being, and reward us adults with the blissful escapism which we all need.