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The Happytime Murders (2018)
Movie Reviews

The Happytime Murders (2018)

A good time with side-splitting moments and solid acting, but saddled with an average detective story that leans too heavily on the puppet gimmick.

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Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) is a former police officer turn private investigator. When he was a cop, a mistake got himself disgraced, kicked off the force, and made it so that no other puppet would ever become a cop again. Oh… yeah… did I mention Phil is a puppet? This is a world where puppets and humans co-exist, just not peacefully. Racism against puppets runs rampant, forcing the fuzzy creatures (some of which appear human – like Phil – others are creatures like rabbits, dogs, and bizarre 2-headed monsters) into the slums where they are heavy in the world of drugs the fetish sex trade.

Anyway, back to our story…

Phil Philips, P.I., meets puppet client Sandra (Dorien Davies) who puts him on the case to find the person who’s blackmailing her. During his search for clues he gets sidetracked when there’s a shootout at the sex shop he’s searching at. One of the victims is former puppet actor Bumblypants (Kevin Clash). This causes Phil to have an unhappy reunion with his former human police partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). The two still have hard feelings for one another, but become forced to once again be a team when Phil’s puppet actor brother is killed, leading them to believe someone is killing all the cast members of an old TV series The Happytime Gang.

The search for clues and the murderer leads Phil and Det. Edwards through the slums of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Their search becomes a much more difficult task as the FBI gets involved and names Phil a person of interest in the murders, leading to his human secretary Bubbles to get involved in the man-hunt (or puppet-hunt).

The Happytime Murders is, if we’re being honest, simply a schtick movie; the type you end up seeing, not because it looks amazing, but because of its interesting schticky premise of a film noir set in a world where humans and puppets coexist. At no point is anyone going to be – or should be – disillusioned into thinking they’re about to see an Oscar contender. But hey, it’s a good time and there are parts of it that are really, REALLY funny!

The hilarious script is by Todd Berger (It’s a Disaster, The Scenesters) and the original story by Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson (The Movie Show). Oddly enough, this concept of a film that takes place in a world where humans and puppets coexist in a far more adult way than any Jim Henson movie isn’t entirely original. Most people are familiar with the Broadway musical Avenue Q, but I have a slightly different perspective from the general public since I work in Hollywood as a screenwriter.

Over the few years, I’ve read no less than 4 scripts where humans and puppets coexist, and they’re usually R-rated. Both feature-length scripts and TV pilots. Seems like an odd world to be in the creative zeitgeist, but who am I to judge?

As funny as the movie is, I’m still not sure it qualifies as a “good” movie. The story is pretty average as detective stories go, with only one twist that felt unexpected. Honestly, if it weren’t for the puppet angle, I doubt very much this movie would have gotten made. But it did get made, and was directed by none other than Brian Henson (yes, Jim Henson’s son).

The acting was amazing in places and stilted in others, much like the gags and jokes that sometimes had me laughing hard and other times left the theater chuckling at best. And as funny as the film was, there was a surprising amount of downtime as the story unfolds.

While it’s not great and there were certainly a lot of padding – yeah, I said it – The Happytime Murders is still a good time with side-splitting moments and solid acting, but with an average detective story that leans too heavily on the unique puppet world and sight gags rather than the actual story. It’s worth a watch, if only to witness the unholy union of humans mixing it up with R-rated puppets.