“The Happytime Murders” Is Fascinatingly Unfunny
Brain Henson (son of “Muppet” creator Jim Henson) FINALLY releases his pet project “The Happytime Murders.”
I say finally because I actually heard of this movie a couple of years ago on a list about films that were stuck in development hell. Now I’m a BIG Jim Henson fan and “The Muppets” in particular. I’m also a fan of his son Brian Henson who has directed a lot of muppet projects since his father’s passing. He was also the voice of Jack Pumpkinhead in “Return to Oz” so the nostalgic feelings I have for him are high. Sadly it all just wasn’t enough to save this film for me.
Cinematics (Cinematography, Acting, Plot, etc.) – 2.5
The story is about a world where muppet style puppets exist and live alongside humans as second class citizens. Murders begin happening to the cast of the one show that unified both humans and puppets, “The Happytime Gang.” A puppet private eye named Phillips is drawn in due to a family connection and must join with police detective/former partner Melissa McCarthy to solve the case. If that sounds like a basic film noir story, that’s intentional. It’s just a film noir with muppet style puppets as half the cast. I don’t hold the plot’s simplicity against it, it makes sense in this case. Other than the puppet angle the only other main difference is this mystery is very much centered around lots of drugs and prostitutes. Or rather more than the average noir film.
For the most part the acting is all fine. If you’re wondering the main puppet, Phillips is voiced by the same guy who does Pepe the Prawn from “The Muppets.” Melissa McCarthy is fine. I’m of the opinion she does best when she’s not trying to be a super wacky character and more human (think “St. Vincent” or her cameo in “This is 40”). The puppeteering is top-notch as you’d expect from the Henson people. I may not care about what they’re doing, but there’s no denying all the actors are doing exactly what was asked of them. One legit film issue I had is that I think visually it should have looked more like a noir film with more shadows and high contrast. I feel it would have helped the joke better. Only one scene is shot like this when they’re raiding a house. Other than that it looks like a typical Muppet film.
Entertainment Value – 2
You may have noticed this film has gotten some extremely bad reviews from most of the critics. There are others praising it as a dumb, but fun experiment. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle as I don’t hate the film, but I certainly didn’t love it. Let me explain something so we’re all on the same page. It is said that the worst thing is a bad comedy. Bad action or drama can fail so bad at their goals that they end up becoming comedies unintentionally. A comedy can’t really do that so you’re just reminded again and again how it’s not funny and most can’t help but start hating the film itself. Is this a bad comedy? For me it is, I’d say about 70-80% of the “jokes” don’t work. I put jokes in parentheses because they’re not even really jokes. Like I said it the plot is a standard noir film, but with puppets as some of the characters. So there are a lot of places where there’s no discernible joke. It’s just typical noir film stuff with all the cursing, killing and drug taking taken up to 11 with these Muppetesque puppets doing them. Essentially it’s a whole movie of “HA HA that cute toy said, “fuck” but cute toys don’t say that! HA HA!” That kind of humor has simply never worked on me.
Despite ALL of that I actually didn’t hate this movie. Normally that previous paragraph would be damning to a film. Why was this? One word… puppets. At all times I was engaged with the film because I was always looking at these high-quality puppets doing their thing. That’s the sort of magic of Jim Henson’s muppet work, you don’t have to have seen a documentary or making-of to understand how a muppet puppet works. It’s as though the films themselves are inviting you into the process while still watching whatever movie is on. Much like how if I’m stuck watching a bad slasher film I tend to focus on the gore effects themselves, maybe try and guess how they’re being accomplished to keep myself entertained on a certain level. So by this being a wall-to-wall puppet show even all the non-jokes couldn’t make me dislike what I was doing with my life for a hour and half. I’ve always said there are some film mediums that I could enjoy any film in. I’d watch a 4 hour version of “The Room” if it was done in good stop-motion animation. I think “The Happytime Murders” finally proves this theory of mine. Lesson of today, add puppets to your film and while I may still not think the movie is good I won’t hate the movie when I’m done watching. That being said there are some jokes that did work. Mostly the ones that weren’t specifically centered around that fact “because they’re muppet style puppets!!!” Although another caveat to that is all the good jokes still only got a little chuckle out of me at most. I can honestly say the credits where they show some of the behind the scenes was the best part for me.
Re-Watchability – 2
Would I watch this again, probably not or at the very least I have no plans to. That being said not only could I do it if I was stuck somewhere with this being my only option, but it really wouldn’t be that much of a chore. As I stated before it moves really fast so it’s a real easy sit.
- Entertainment Value
“The Happytime Murders” is disappointing yet never anger-inducing. It's hard to think of the film that failed this bad, but never got under my skin. It's not because it was just a so so movie. I should be tearing it apart, but I can't because the puppets could always shield me from the bad jokes. If you like this specific kind of humor maybe you'll like this. If you need something a little bit more than I suggest you move on. I give it 2 stars out of 5.
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