Written By: Mark Armstrong
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Production Companies: Black Bear Pictures, Henson Alternative, H.Brothers, On The Day Productions and STXfilms
Director: Brian Henson
Producers: Brian Henson, Jeff Hayes, Jason Lust, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone
Scriptwriter: Todd Berger
Main Cast: Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale and Elizabeth Banks
Released: August 24 2018
Running Time: 91 Minutes
The best way to describe The Happytime Murders is that it is a combination of Sesame Street and Team America, with the Henson family-style puppets (and yes, Brian Henson directed and produced the movie) involved in an adult-orientated situation playing out on the big screen. To me, the movie does not live up to its potential, though I found it more enjoyable than other reviewers have so far.
The premise is fairly simple: we meet Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta), a former police officer turned private investigator who has been tasked with solving the ongoing case of a murder spree being carried out on cast members of the local TV show The Happytime Gang. In the meantime, we meet Sandra White (voiced by Dorien Davies), a new client of Phil’s who has come to avoid being blackmailed for her extremely sexual demeanour, and also Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), a former partner of Phillips with whom she had conflict due to a situation years back, where Edwards was being held at gunpoint by a puppet criminal, only for Phil’s bullet to miss him and strike a local resident. The incident led to Phillips being removed from his police position, and the two still have a frosty relationship.
The main problem they are facing, though, is that somebody is taking out all of the cast members one-by-one, perhaps for financial gain since the amount of money that each performer (or their husband/wife) receives will increase should any of their co-workers pass away. Tellingly, though, because Phil and later Connie as well are trying to speak to each cast member in an attempt to find the murderer, they just happen to be on-site whenever each tragedy occurs, which ultimately leads to Phil being painted as a potential suspect. He also becomes an untrustworthy figure with the (human) police force for other reasons, one being that they happen to be at Phil’s office when he meets Sandra again and they end up having intercourse in comedic fashion. As the story rolls on, the potential suspects are narrowed down, but before the crimes can be solved, there are several twists which raise doubt over who is truly responsible, and also who may ultimately be charged with said murders.
The story is easy to follow, and there are enough unexpected moments to keep you guessing on who the prepetrator of the multiple murders is. There are some interesting uses of music for the movie’s soundtrack; there aren’t any songs specifically created for this flick, but there are a couple of tunes that you will recognise and, on at least one occasion, they match the ridiculousness of the situation on-screen. And because the puppets all exist within the human world, many of the situations that occur are deliberately ludicrous, meaning that nothing is meant to be taken seriously (in a good way).
Of course, the big selling point of this film is to see the Henson family puppets in a non-PG environment, from the frequent swearing to the almost-as-frequent sexual references (and the odd sex act) to the violence (which is not bloody, because, well, they’re puppets!). Ironically, this may just be the movie’s downfall, and it harks back to my opening paragraph. Instead of inserting strong language and sex into the main story where appropriate to maximise laughs and shock value (which was the case in Team America, the funniest part of which was arguably the harmless “Montage” song), these elements quickly lose their value, meaning that the novelty has worn off just a few minutes into the movie.
What’s more, besides the sex scene involving Phil and Sandra, none of the double entendres leave much of a lasting impression, nor do the vast majority of the swears, because they are used so often. In an attempt to make people think “Wow, this is the Sesame Street crew, they shouldn’t be doing that!”, the producers overdo things to the point where lines that would normally garner a big laugh instead become just another one-liner. I am writing this having seen the film just two hours ago, and I honestly can’t remember any hilarious lines of dialogue. This isn’t to say that the film isn’t funny, because there are some genuinely humorous moments here, but with more care applied to the writing and to the core elements that are being used to sell this movie (the tag line is “Sex. Murder. Puppets”), this would stand out a lot more. So, as noted, it’s interesting that the main curiosity about the film is also its biggest detriment.
Still, there are still a fair few laughs to be had, and the running time flies by. If you’ve seen the advertising for this movie and are intrigued, you’ll still get a kick out of it, but if you’re expecting a comedy classic, then this is absolutely nothing of the sort. Take it for what it is and you’ll be entertained; take it as a groundbreaking moment in comedy history and you’ll be very disappointed. But it’s not quite the disaster that other reviewers would have you believe it to be, either. If there is a sequel to this movie, hopefully there will be better use of the key elements (since the story itself is not bad at all) that will result in the film that The Happytime Murders should have been, but it’s still a decent way to pass 80-90 minutes.
Overall Rating: 6/10 – Reasonable