Combustible Celluloid
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With: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Victor Yerrid, Michael McDonald
Written by: Todd Berger, based on a story by Todd Berger, Dee Austin Robertson
Directed by: Brian Henson
MPAA Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material
Running Time: 91
Date: 08/24/2018

The Happytime Murders (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Puppet Disaster

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite some good ideas, a likable cast, and a halfway decent mystery, this vulgar, naughty puppet show is far more interested in being shocking than in being entertaining or inventive.

In The Happytime Murders, private detective Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) lives in a world where puppets are not viewed as the equal of humans. He was once a cop, partnered with Detective Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), until a mishap cost him his job. A pretty puppet, Sandra (Dorien Davies), walks into his office and hires him to look into a blackmailing. His first clue brings him to an adult video shop, where a masked killer shoots everyone in sight, including the bunny Mr. Bumblypants (Kevin Clash), who was once on the popular 1980s TV show "The Happytime Gang."

Phil learns from his brother, Larry (Victor Yerrid) that the show is going to be syndicated, which will bring in new cash for the cast. But Larry is also murdered. As Phil investigates further, now reluctantly paired with Detective Edwards, other members of the "Happytime" gang meet their ends, with Phil nearby each time. Can Phil and Edwards solve the mystery before Phil gets blamed for the murders?

Brian Henson, a son of the legendary Jim Henson and the director of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, somehow thought this was a good idea, even though movies like Team America: World Police, Ted, and Sausage Party already pushed the envelope for raunchy humor in otherwise "kid"-oriented formats.

None of the so-called envelope-pushing humor here is funny, not puppet sex, nor puppets being addicted to sugar like a drug, nor heavy swearing. Unfortunately, that stuff makes up most of The Happytime Murders. (Perhaps ironically, the squeaky-clean, G-rated The Muppet Movie is far cleverer and funnier.)

McCarthy is, as usual, amusing, and she shares some fun chemistry with the Phil Philips character. But ideas like puppet "racism" and sugar addiction are only barely explored, plopped casually into the movie as if they, too, were simply jokes. And certain themes are either not introduced, or not followed through. Overall, the movie is well-paced and the story isn't bad; if only it could have focused on those things rather than tired, nasty humor, it might have been worthwhile.

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