- The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
- The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
- A performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.
- The thing that The Happytime Murders fails miserably to achieve in every conceivable manner, save for one.
It would seem that I’m on something of a hot streak in terms of seeking out and paying money to view only the grungiest, most off-putting refuse currently available in theaters. Last week it was the crime against horror movies (and, arguably, humanity) known as Slenderman. This week it’s the crime against comedy, Sesame Street, and inarguably humanity known as The Happytime Murders. I’m not sure what nefarious force guided me to two consecutive films that were both so genuinely terrible and wholly unpleasant to sit through, but I’ve never been as acutely aware of my mortality as I am today.
Imagine, if you will, a particularly weak Saturday Night Live skit. Now imagine that SNL didn’t air on NBC, but rather on an alternative network that’s far more accepting of profanity, sexual content, and violence. Now imagine that the script was penned with the delicacy of an eighth grader. Then make it ninety-one minutes and cast a lead known almost exclusively for playing obnoxious characters who do obnoxious things. As mortifying as that particular concoction sounds, I can assure you that the reality is far worse.
On the surface, The Happytime Murders is meant to be a pseudo-satire of Jim Henson-esque family entertainment (a la Sesame Street or The Muppets) that shines the spotlight on decidedly R-rated topics. In theory, an edgy portrayal of a world filled with goofy puppets engaging in all manners of debauchery could have been, if nothing else, a humorous diversion. Instead, the filmmakers managed to completely waste the unique premise while simultaneously producing one of the most agonizingly unfunny movies I’ve ever seen.
The plot, such as it is, follows ex-puppet-cop Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta) as he investigates the violent murder of the entire cast of The Happytime Gang: a popular television show starring a group of puppets and Elizabeth Banks. Phillips – who was the first puppet to join the LAPD – is joined by his former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), and occasionally Stanley from The Office, who seems to be sharing Ambien with Danny Glover.
This is where the first of many, many problems peeks its ugly head. The idea of the world has just enough cleverness to it to work without needing to resort to shock value for every single “laugh,” provided it gets sufficiently established and fleshed out enough. Instead, every single joke is based on some kind of gross-out humor, and the existence of sentient puppets is spun into a staggeringly misguided racial allegory.
Have you ever desperately wanted to watch an octopus aggressively milk a cow’s udders in the back room of a porn shop? Would watching a puppet have an orgasm so explosive that he shoots actual Silly String all over his office for no fewer than twenty full seconds send you into hysterics? Do you laugh uncontrollably at the very mention of purple pubic hair? If you answered no to any of the above, I cannot stress enough just how far you should stay from this film.
The issue is not that raunchy comedy is always indicative of sloppy writing. One would need to look no further than South Park or Deadpool to see that this is plainly not the case. The problem is that The Happytime Murders has absolutely no plan outside of shock value. Deadpool works because it features likable characters saying funny lines while doing things that just aren’t done in mainstream superhero movies. By that same measure, Happytime could have worked in juxtaposition with The Muppets, but in order to do so, it would need something, anything of substance on which to base itself.
But alas, no. Every character can be reduced to one dominant trait by which everything they do is defined. The story plods along, doling out painfully obvious reveals, each of which is accompanied by a verbal explanation, a flashback, or both. Anything taking place between Melissa McCarthy snorting sugar through a Red Vine and Phil watching Elizabeth Banks seductively eat a carrot for the pleasure of three rabbits is treated with all of the care and attention one might afford to a discarded mattress.
It seems that the only attempt to develop something resembling worldbuilding (for a film called The Happytime Murders, The Happytime Gang has very nearly nothing to do with the plot) is a lifeless depiction of race relations. In this world, puppets are considered to be inferior to humans and are routinely treated quite poorly. Not only is this not funny, but it accomplishes absolutely nothing outside of allowing the screenwriter to come up with a bunch of fictitious racial slurs and fling them around with no fear of offending anybody. It’s utterly pointless and adds nothing to the film at large. If you’re interested in a movie that is both hysterical and about racism, go see Blackkklansman, which is phenomenal.
At a certain point, I have to wonder if The Happytime Murders was designed explicitly to break my spirit. As if it weren’t enough that I had to sit through an hour-and-a-half of agony, the universe thought that it would be a nice touch to also run the good name of Jim Henson through the mud. You see, this film was directed by his son, Brian Henson and produced through several Henson companies. In what may be court-admissable proof that the world is in a state of decay, the progeny of the man who created The Muppets and Labyrinth was integral to the realization of The Happytime Murders.
As much as it pains me to say, in the interest of objectivity I do have to note that there is one thing that The Happytime Murders does exceptionally well. Even if the script, visuals, music, and plotline were all well below subpar, Brian Henson certainly did his father proud in the arena of puppetry. Not only do the characters all have that iconic Henson look to them, but they move with a measured precision that rivals the best work done by the company. Scenes featuring full-body shots of puppets in motion are particularly impressive, and gave me the first “how did they do that” moment I’ve experienced in a long while.
That one positive element aside, The Happytime Murders is a wretched slog of a movie that nobody should waste ninety minutes of their life on. It’s not funny, it’s not particularly shocking, it’s exceptionally unmemorable, and you’ll find yourself far more bored than anything approaching entertained. Between Happytime and Slenderman, August has been the month from Cinema Hell, sent to rob me of even a minute shred of joy, should I be lucky enough to find one in a theater.
If the utility of a review is to encourage/discourage potential viewers as to how they ought to spend/not waste their precious and finite time on this planet, then allow me to save you the unnecessary pain of sitting through The Happytime Murders. Do anything else. Take a walk. Go bird-watching. See another, better movie. Pick up a new hobby. Just please, do not make the mistake of spending your money and time in a room watching Maya Rudolph flirt with a sock puppet.