The Happytime Murders
It would be a much simpler world if a bunch of swearing puppets was enough to carry an entire feature film. Sadly, cussing felt creatures are not enough to keep me entertained, and I discovered that truth by enduring The Happytime Murders.
Set up as a world where puppets coexist with humans, The Happytime Murders is an incredibly straightforward murder mystery. One by one, the cast members of an old television show are being killed. This happens just days before they’re due to start collecting royalties from syndication, which will make them all mighty rich. Can our hardboiled detectives find the killer before the last cast member dies? Perhaps more importantly, do we care?
I appreciate the fact that relying on such a clichéd narrative lends The Happytime Murders a cinematic shorthand for its plot, so that more time can be put into developing the world of the film and letting the comedic actors riff off one another. However, the world of the film is lazy and unexplored. Although puppets are treated like the lowest social caste in this society, none of that actually materializes in a meaningful way. We see the puppet criminal underbelly of this version of Los Angeles, but that exists for humans too. And while it’s a big plot point that puppets can no longer be cops, there seems to be no systemic oppression or greater social stigma attached to puppets. This prejudice only comes up in passing dialogue, not in the story itself.
The humor, for the most part, is juvenile and playful. Seeing some very intricate puppet porn is actually pretty funny, but that’s only in the first few scenes. The extended ejaculation gag is tedious by the time it arrives, and it’s one-note and predictable. That isn’t to say that The Happytime Murders is entirely humorless. As she usually does, Melissa McCarthy shines when she’s able to go off-book and create her own laughs. The few scenes she and Maya Rudolph share are the shining examples of what could have been if the film chose to focus on what was actually working well.
Swearing puppets are funny. Melissa McCarthy is funny. Maya Rudolph is funny. Ribaldry can be funny. And yet, The Happytime Murders manages to not be particularly funny or entertaining.