It pains me to think that I even have to say this, but in a world where the words "coffee is hot" is a necessary label to avoid lawsuits it bears mentioning that The Happytime Murders is not a family film.
The Happytime Murders is not safe for children. Truthfully, it's not really safe for anyone but it's especially not safe for any children. This is coming from a guy who wholeheartedly supported the decision by A24 to offer free screenings of the R-rated Eighth Grade to actual eighth graders.
The Happytime Murders? Um, no. Not for kids.
Now that we have that out of the way, how is The Happytime Murders for adults?
Quite simply, The Happytime Murders is one of the worst films of 2018 and easily the worst film in Melissa McCarthy's cinematic career.
Remember that scene in McCarthy's breakout film Bridesmaids where the entire group gets food poisoning and McCarthy's Megan, in particular, has to take a serious crap?
I'd rather actually watch Megan take that crap than ever have to sit through The Happytime Murders again.
Fortunately running at a relatively brief 91 minutes, The Happytime Murders first gained notoriety when Sesame Street sued over the film's mentioning of the beloved children's show in its trailer through the use of the tagline - "No Sesame. All Street."
Admit it. You groaned, too.
Sesame Street lost, leaving Oscar even grouchier than usual.
It probably didn't help Sesame Street's cause that The Happytime Murders has the Henson name attached to it. Jim Henson's son, Brian Henson, is the film's director and the film is the inaugural release from the Henson Alternative production company.
Theoretically, I suppose, that means we can expect more adult-themed Henson crap down the road.
It is possible, of course, to successfully create an adult-themed cinematic effort involving puppets. Just ask Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who gave us Team America: World Police, or even Peter Jackson, whose Meet the Feebles didn't go gangbusters at the box-office but could likely be called some sort of success.
The Happytime Murders certainly isn't the first puppet-infused cinematic world to intentionally cross that line between tastefully funny and outright raunch. It is certainly one of the few to feature Hollywood A and B-listers and to get a wide release in the multiplexes.
So, again. Let me repeat myself. The Happytime Murders is not safe for children.
The story, if you could call it that, centers around Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta), a washed up former P.I. (Private Investigator, for the uninformed) and the LAPD's first puppet detective who was booted from the force after a botched effort to rescue his former partner, Detective Connie Edwards (McCarthy). Phil's failure not only led to his own disgrace and downfall, but ensured the continued shaming of puppets everywhere. However, when a masked killer starts knocking off both the human and puppet co-stars of a beloved 90's sitcom, Phil gets called back into actual alongside his former partner.
Are you really still reading this? Do you really still care?
The Happytime Murders is one of those films where there's just enough of a seedling of a good idea that it's pretty easy to understand why a comic like Melissa McCarthy, along with the likes of live action co-stars Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, and Elizabeth Banks, would sign onto a project that has gone so wildly awry.
The Happytime Murders had potential, maybe not amazing potential but potential, but it seems like at every possible point that Henson could have done something creative or ingenious or intelligent or just plain entertaining that Henson shoots for the raunchiest, lowest common denominator in the least creative and entertaining fashion possible.
The Happytime Murders takes its raunch so seriously that it's seriously unfunny. I would describe some of the offending scenes for you, but on the offbeat chance that you actually check out the film and on the offbeat chance it elicits a laugh or two from you I'll avoid the details and just say that you should likely prepare yourself for anatomically correct puppets and body fluids being sprayed everywhere.
More than once.
While McCarthy is ordinarily able to make sense of even the lamest material, usually that involving hubby Ben Falcone's flicks (Sorry, Ben. You know it's true!), there's not a thing she can do to save The Happytime Murders and the film itself regresses McCarthy back into the body shaming, low self-esteem, humiliation crap that she'd been steering clear of as of late.
Quite honestly, it's just not funny.
It's known that the idea for The Happytime Murders has been floating around for a few years, originally passed on by Henson but now inexplicably representing the Henson Company's transition into more adult puppet fare. Truthfully, the only reason The Happytime Murders is getting a half star is because, indeed, the puppet work is actually fairly impressive.
The rest of the film is not.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic