I've studied film all my life, I know what true puppet entertainment is!
Unfortunately more forgettable than I had anticipated...
Usually after I watch a movie, I try to give myself some time in order to process everything, evaluate, and even re-evaluate the film. Just an attempt to let everything really sink in before I give my thoughts on it. I think that may have been a mistake this time around to have given myself so much time between now and when I watched the film, which was just last night, because I've already forgotten a lot about The Happytime Murders. This movie is just that forgettable, that should not be a defining characteristic about a movie involving muppets being brutally murdered and have outlandish sex scenes. That just should not be the case, at all. I should remember everything about this movie, even if it was a bad movie I should not be saying that the R rated puppet comedy has already fleeted from my brain less than twenty-four hours later.
The Happytime Murders takes place in a world where puppets are alive and they coexist with humans; after private investigator Phil Phillips receives a case from a mysterious puppet woman, he happens upon a string of murders that he believes are linked by the victims being involved in a television show from the 90s (reminiscent of Sesame Street) called the Happytime Gang. But in order to find the killer, Phil must team up with his old human partner (Melissa McCarthy) and together they come across quirky puppets as well as some mayhem.
From the synopsis alone, I feel like I should be describing this film as anything other than simply mediocre. Unfortunately that is exactly what The Happytime Murders is, mediocre. It is more or less like any other modern comedy that you can find Melissa McCarthy or Will Ferrell doing nowadays; little story and heavy amounts of adlibbing. To be fair, it's not the worst offender of having the 'line-o-rama' syndrome, but I don't want lame babbling mouthed idiots that go on forever in my supposed 'over-the-top' puppet screwball flick. I wanted way more of what the trailer promised quite honestly. I wanted all the gruesome puppet murders, the insane puppet sex scenes, cracked out of their mind puppets offering sexual favors...and we get a little bit of that. Here and there, but no more than what can be found in the previews for this movie which is extremely disappointing because it is mostly just the characters going back and forth with adlibbed lines. And I can be fine with adlibbing and improv in film, when it is does right and edited properly. Robin Williams as Genie in Aladdin is a good example of how that can work well. The original 1984 "Ghostbusters" with basically its whole main cast that improvised a good amount of their lines. But with those movies the characters felt consistent, the actors got back on track with the script speedily, and the editor made sure to keep the excess fat from their improv out of the final cut. Comedies don't do that much anymore, they have their leads go back and forth while practically throwing out the script and the editor basically keeps every take in the scene when it should be severely trimmed down. Happytime Murders does the same thing, but at least I can say that it keeps its run time under two hours, unlike other offenders that needlessly push that two hour mark. Plus the adlibbed segments don't detract from the plot too drastically, but enough to hurt the project as a whole.
Aside from the adlibbing, the film feels as though it is played so safe. If you took out the puppets and a few specific moments of violence, this movie is like any other raunchy comedy. That to me is hugely disappointing about this movie. It should have been more ambitious in how ridiculous and over-the-top it could have been. For most of the run time I was constantly thinking about how much better Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles was in comparison to The Happytime Murders, because at the very least I can say that Jackson went all out and pulled no punches with his film. That film wasn't afraid to go places and it got dark, which supplied a substantial amount of its comedy. While with Happytime Murders I went for some seriously long gaps without laughing. I believe I literally went for fifteen to twenty minutes without uttering so much as a light chuckle. That should never be the case for watching a comedy. I never sat there mad or anything like that, and I certainly have seen plenty worse comedies from this year, but I was extremely bored through a lot of it.
I will say that I did appreciate that this movie took inspiration from old noir thrillers such as in its narration, the story being a murder mystery that involves a private investigator, and there's even a femme fatale. The puppeteering also has some top notch work done here; I truly enjoyed how these puppets were brought to life and how they function in this unique world of puppet/people cohabitants. The main puppet, Phil Phillips, was a good lead and actually carried me most of the way through. The violence and absurdity of the world, what little there is, is funny. When a puppet gets his head blown off and there's cotton flying everywhere, it is very humorous. Or when something like a cow puppet is filming a porno with an octopus puppet, again, it got a laugh out of me. But those moments are so rare that at no point did I ever feel like I was watching the dark comedy that this was meant to be. Also, for a film that takes such heavy inspirations from noir crime mysteries, it looks so bland. The cinematography just looks so clean and basic, when a noir is dark and full of atmosphere. Even the concept art for this movie looks much closer to a noir tale than what the final product turned out to be. The story was also very predictable, which I could have forgiven if the movie was funnier, but I only laughed a handful of times.
While no one does a particularly bad job in their roles, in terms of the actors, I really do wish that this starred dramatic actors rather than comedians. I understand that this is a comedy, therefore, yes it does make sense to cast comedians. However, if this film had starred more dramatic actors I feel that could have fed into the comedy way more because I personally find it funnier when the characters are taking their world seriously. For example, in Airplane, the majority of that cast was acting in a way that made sure their characters were grounded in that absurd reality. They took everything in their world seriously, making the goofy things that happen all the funnier. No one here acts like this is their world. Everyone comes across as a comedian trying to be zany in front of the camera because 'comedy'. But that's not funny to me. There can be times where that works fine, but here it just comes across as simply trying too hard. Plus, if there were more dramatic actors in the movie that would largely eliminate the adlibbing problem.
Overall, I thought this movie is probably okay to turn on in the background or if you're bored and it pops up on Netflix. I say that because there are some good things about the movie, things that I do appreciate such as the puppeteering and I would hate if that were to go unnoticed. But it really isn't all that funny. It's not entirely groan inducing, but it should have been a lot better. Or at the very least a lot more memorable. I could have accepted this movie more so if it was a dumpster fire because then I would remember it. As it is, I'm going to forget that I even saw this in the next couple days. However, if I were you, I would just seek out Meet the Feebles because I promise that won't be boring for anyone.
© 2018 John Plocar