The Happytime Murders Review

Sometimes the general hope surrounding a movie’s production is simply that there be some reaction by audiences. Depending on the depth and breadth of the intention behind the effort, the only way to truly go wrong is to induce boredom. It isn’t hard to see that almost any comedy falls into such a category, and if you’re (theoretically) pushing boundaries, hate and love will probably balance out. When you’re a shock comic, the fact that a lot of people don’t like what you do is part of how you know you’re doing it right. The Happytime Murders calmly meanders through this ground like an extreme preacher demanding the persecution the Bible promises. 

But, this is a movie that obviously has another avenue to polarize people, the fact that Jim Henson’s son is the one taking his father’s legacy and turning it into a dark collection of sexual gags and shocking, fluff-flying deaths.

Much like many Muppet efforts, The Happytime Murders throws us into a world in which Muppets exist alongside humans, but this is no happy adventure we have in store for us. Muppets are looked down on, treated horribly, and have only recently managed some small degree of equal treatment. Thus, Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) was, not long ago, the first “fluffy” cop on the force. Of course, he has since been disgraced and now works as a private detective.

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We enter the story when an attractive damsel walks into Phil’s life with a plea for him to help her. From there, things wander through the pages of Film Noir 101, and without even the slightest effort to deviate from the outline. It turns out that someone seems to be after bumping off the entire cast of an old children’s show, and Phil is bizarrely close to the case, because both his brother and ex-girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) were on the show. Once bodies start dropping, Phil is forced to work alongside his old partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), and it turns out that things might not be as simple as they seem.

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Photo Credit: Hopper Stone; Motion Picture Artwork © 2017 STX Financing, LLC.

You now know everything that’s going to happen in the film, and if you don’t, brother have I got some movies for you. The only difference between this and an equally unfunny, uninteresting, cut-and-paste film noir montage of an effort is that when Phil “dives into the seedy underbelly of the city,” you get to actually see the niche porn in all its glory. You also get to watch Phil have sex with the damsel in distress, and when a murder victim is killed by being torn apart, you get to watch that happen too. I mean, what are the censors going to do?

Worst of all, though there are perhaps a couple of laughs, the thing just isn’t funny. That may not be surprising for those of us that wonder how long Melissa McCarthy can keep making movies without anything good or funny happening in any of them, but even Maya Rudolph and Joel McHale are wasted. Not only do they not get much that’s worthy of their comedic abilities, their best chances come largely by being in the vicinity of Muppet sex and acting vaguely awkward, which isn’t exactly a Herculean task.

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It’s hard to fault a Muppet film for failing to meet any plot expectations, a fact the film hopes to take to the bank, but at best it offers up a few, extremely juvenile laughs, so why make it at all?

Maya Rudolph in The Happytime Murders

That’s actually pretty obvious and almost immediately renders the bland, goofball effort somewhat painful to watch. It isn’t hard to imagine that growing up in the shadow of the man who created an entire world of wholesome family entertainment might have certain ups and downs, but watching what I assume is some kind of attempt at a cathartic rejection isn’t a lot of fun. “Oh yeah, Dad? How about if you watch them have sex for a while? Maybe we’ll get a few Muppets who get to show up in the credits as “cheap hooker,” take a shotgun to a few of them, and have a couple OD. How do you like that, Dad?” Hooray.

I suppose we can hope he has it out of his system, especially considering there are efforts in the works that could ruin a lot of childhood memories, but there’s nothing about The Happytime Murders that suggests there was ever any need to actually release it.


Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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