“The Happytime Murders” fails to be funny

George Ibarra/Staff Writer

For anyone who watched the horribly unfunny trailers for Brian Henson’s “The Happytime Murders,” it’s no surprise the “comedy” film is a vacuum that sucks all emotion from its audience. “The Happytime Murders” follows hokey buddy-cop mystery clichés, feels half-written and has no jokes beyond a juvenile level.

In a world where humans and puppets live together, the puppet private investigator Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) finds himself a witness to multiple murders of the former Happytime Gang – an off-brand muppet troupe. Scouring the seedy side of Los Angeles for answers, he teams up with his human former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to catch the man (or puppet) behind the Happytime Murders.

To say that “The Happytime Murders” disappointed me would imply I had any positive expectations for this film. In a theater where I was one of nine people in the audience, not one person laughed throughout the comedy’s run-time.

Nearly every joke in “The Happytime Murders” revolves around pointless profanities, violence, drugs and sex – but this time it’s all done by puppets, which is funny, am I right? It’s as if an executive wanted to latch onto folks who think seeing their “childhood ruined” substitutes a story with substance.

Clearly trying to mimic the world of Robert Zemeckis’ “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” puppets are treated like cheap entertainment for children, despite living alongside humans. This crucial piece of the setting is forgotten beyond the occasional “puppet slur.” Other elements, like the sugary candy puppets use as hard drugs, hold no bearing to the film’s world beyond the few scenes they appear in.  

The film’s issue with world-building represents its chief problem: every scene, character and joke presented in “The Happytime Murders” feels underwritten. The writers made no effort to paint the Happytime Gang as sympathetic characters before revealing the crude and perverted truths beneath their innocent personas.  

The character of Phil Phillips is a walking noir cliché. A once proud cop turned disgraced, remorseful chain-smoking alcoholic who hoards nostalgic newspaper clippings, the character of Phillips feels as lifeless as a puppet can get.

Alternatively, Connie Edwards is later revealed to be half-puppet after receiving a puppet liver transplant. This change in her life is supposed to bring discrimination and shame onto her, which, as the story progresses, leads to resentment of her once close partner. But instead of showing us this discrimination first-hand, we’re treated to jokes about Edwards “looking mannish,” which on top of being painfully unfunny, holds no bearing on the greater narrative or Edwards’ tensions with Phillips.

But the strangest of all its flaws is the film’s ending, which feels like it came from an entirely different cut of the film. Many characters don’t have their plots resolved, relationships with no setup reach their “satisfying conclusions” and the sudden cut to the musical credits was so jarring I had to double check I hadn’t fallen asleep and dreamed up a completely different movie.  

Ultimately, “The Happytime Murders” is so half-baked and devoid of purposeful storytelling that, while exiting the theater, I can’t say I felt anything genuine or meaningful. It’s safe to say that “The Happytime Murders” is the puppet film equivalent of watching paint dry.

Photo retrieved from Flickr.

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