When the beloved cast of a 1980s TV show starts getting murdered, two former partners take the case and swear a lot.
What do you get when you mix Sausage Party, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, Dick Tracy, Team America: World Police, and Muppets from Space with a whole lot of cocaine, felt, and glitter? The Happytime Murders.
Years before the film opens, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and Phil Philips (voiced and performed by Bill Barretta) were partners. But when Phil missed a shot when Edwards was in danger, all puppets were banned from serving as police officers. So, when his brother Larry (Victor Yerrid) and Mr. Bumblypants (Kevin Clash) are murdered, Phil and Edwards realize that there’s a connection: they all starred in The Happytime Gang TV show from the 1980s. What ensues is a film, directed by Brian Henson, that makes little sense, is painfully unfunny, and only slightly clever from time to time.
This seems like a great premise for a film: The Heat meets with Muppets, right? Melissa McCarthy has proven she can helm the hilarious buddy action film. Why not bring Muppets in? Honestly, the duality of a noirish premise undercut by the wonderful nostalgic absurdity of real-world puppets is a recipe for gold! However, instead of Lethal Weapon with Muppets, we got A Good Day to Die Hard with Muppets. It’s a complete mess.
The puppet/human world is sharply divided along racial lines (that metaphor could have been so great! Don’t worry, it’s not). Puppets are called socks and regularly abused by people pulling eyes out, sexually exploiting them, poaching them, and generally denigrating them at every turn. However, it’s all played for laughs all the time, and those laughs both fall short and undercut the message that the film may be trying to convey. What works best are the edges and corners of the worldbuilding. A puppet bunny pees glitter and defecates easter eggs when he’s scared; when puppets are shot they explode into clouds of cotton rather than gouts of blood; the puppets snort sugar through liquorice straws instead of doing cocaine, and they down straight maple syrup rather than booze. All those details kept me going through this otherwise intolerable film. That’s where its slim shreds of cleverness lie because the jokes do not land and the writing muddles the mystery.
In no way do I lay the blame on Melissa McCarthy for this disaster, but even she couldn’t elevate this leaden material. There are a few genuinely classic McCarthy moments: she fights a whole roomful of puppet gang members while hopped up on sugar, and riffs on different dirty meanings for the FBI anagram. She could so be in her element here, but the film just drags her down. Actually, what most drags her down is the recreation of Sharon Stone’s “moment” from Basic Instinct, reenacted by a puppet. Much like the film itself, that was not something that anyone–anyone–needed to see
Much like Hotel Artemis, which teased us with the potential of John Wick meets The Purge, The Happytime Murders should have been a great movie. Instead, it’s hands down my biggest disappointment of the year.