Puppets behaving badly should somehow feel edgier. And while “The Happytime Murders” does push a lot of boundaries, most of it feels pretty stale and familiar.
At the very least, this movie has a pedigree, because if you’re going to make a film with puppets, you better have a Henson involved. Brian Henson, son of the late, great Jim Henson directs this send-up of grisly crime thrillers and while some of the wacky outrageousness manages to stick the landing, it’s mostly a felt-covered thud.
In a world where humans and puppets coexist, our hero is private investigator Phil Philips (performed by Muppets veteran Bill Barretta), a puppet and disgraced former cop who gets wrapped up in a series of murders involving the cast of an old TV show called “The Happytime Gang.”
Philips’ former human-partner, Det. Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), doesn’t want him sniffing around the crimes as the pair have a complicated, antagonistic relationship.
“The Happytime Murders” attempts to make some larger points about discrimination with puppets treated as second-class citizens. But then an allegory for discrimination dressed up as a comedic crime drama was done so much better by “Zootopia.”
That means “The Happytime Murders” has to fall back on raunchy comedy and the shock of seeing puppets involved in all manner of rude and crude activities. This works to a certain extent (you’ll never look at cows and octopi in the same way ever again), but raunchiness for the sake of raunchiness feels more hollow than anything else.
That then leaves the human cast, who actually almost pulls this thing out of the fire. McCarthy, who is always at her best when she is angry and unhinged, gives this movie everything she’s got and, sadly enough, the movie actually shines when there’s not a puppet to be found in scenes where McCarthy gets paired with Maya Rudolph, who plays Philips’ secretary, Bubbles. I would watch a movie with just these two solving crimes.
But then “The Happytime Murders” can’t keep the momentum going as it winds up wasting the talents of Elizabeth Banks as the lone human cast member of “The Happytime Gang” and Joel McHale as a jerky FBI agent.
Unless you’re a devotee of the art of puppetry or mildly funny sex jokes, you can probably just let this one slide and instead catch “Avenue Q” the next time it comes to town.
“The Happytime Murders” is rated R for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout and some drug material.