The Happytime Murders
dir Brian Henson
scr Todd Berger, Dee Austin Robertson
prd Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Brian Henson, Jeffrey Hayes
with Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker, Dorien Davies, Victor Yerrid, Cynthy Wu, Michael McDonald, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey
release US 24.Aug.18, UK 27.Aug.18
18/US STX 1h31
The Happytime Murders
The dynamic duo: McCarthy and Phil

banks rudolph mchale
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Happytime Murders Relying far too heavily on the idea of Muppets behaving badly, this action comedy is remarkably flimsy. Story and character take second place to puppet-based wackiness, from salty language to jokes about extreme sex, drugs and violence. But there's so little texture in the script that it never quite grabs hold of the audience. Sure, there are solid laughs along the way, but most gags fall flat.

In Los Angeles, puppets live alongside humans as second-class citizens, harassed by police, kids, dogs and everyday bigotry. The only puppet to ever join the police, Phil (Barretta) is now a private eye whose new case involves the nymphomaniac Sandra (Davies). Then someone begins killing the cast members from The Happytime Gang, a vintage TV show. And Phil is forced to work with his antagonistic ex-partner Detective Connie (McCarthy) to solve the case, hopefully before the killer reaches Phil's actor brother Larry (Yerrid) or the show's human star Jenny (Banks), Phil's ex-girlfriend.

The film looks great, with puppeteers skilfully performing in real locations. But the plot trundles along without much momentum, neither generating mystery nor suspense. Action beats are perfunctory, and the plot's twists and revelations are amusing rather than clever. So the most enjoyable element is the interaction, including terrific puppet-human moments between Phil and both McCarthy and Banks. The show-stopping sequence features McCarthy and Rudolph (as Phil's blase secretary), who have exquisite timing together.

But frankly the puppets have more depth than the humans. Phil is a likeably jaded former cop trying to hide his soft spot for those around him, and Barretta gives him a gruff charm. McCarthy occasionally shines too, delivering some hilarious throwaway lines, but Connie never really becomes a fully rounded person. Banks and McHale (as an intrusive FBI agent) have very little to do, but Rudolph has a lot of fun with her side role.

This is definitely a missed opportunity, a chance to make an adult-oriented Roger Rabbit-style noir comedy. But the film feels as simplistic as the other comedies McCarthy has made with husband Falcone (avoid Tammy and The Boss), as opposed to the great ones she has made with Paul Feig (see The Heat and Spy). The secret is simple: it's always about the script, refining the characters, finding thematic resonance and, most of all, hashing through the gags to make sure that at least most of them hit their mark.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 27.Aug.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall