Small Screen Reviews
The Happytime Murders Review
What’s It About?
Puppets and people live in harmony – sort of. But then a killer goes around targeting the stars of classic tv show The Happytime Gang, and an unlikely duo are brought in to solve the case.
Who’s In It?
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, Spy, & more recently Life Of The Party)
Elizabeth Banks (Hunger Games films, Pitch Perfect 1-3)
Lots of puppets
Other notables include:
Maya Rudolph (Away We Go, Bridesmaids, & more recently Life Of The Party)
Joel McHale (Community, Assassination Nation)
Director: Brian Henson (The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island)
On paper, The HappyTime Murders should work. Melissa McCarthy is engaging, and everyone of a certain age remembers with fondness The Muppets and Sesame Street, so watching effectively Muppets go bad, certainly seems to be quite a draw, and the trailer was certainly more than a little enticing, with one of the best taglines of the year – No Sesame, All Street. Something they actually got into a little trouble for.
The film itself is a relatively standard idea. It is a detective noir story, centring on gristled ex cop Phil Philips, now a private detective, played by puppeteer Bill Barretta. Think puppet but in the mould of Bogey’s Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but without the mac and covered in felt.
He’s brought onto a case but a seductive redhead, which soon turns into a hunt for a serial killer – who is murdering members of the classic TV show The Happytime Gang. And things soon get pretty personal for Philips as there is a family connection for him, while his former police partner Det Connie Edwards is also brought on board to investigate the case – and the two have a history.
There are certainly familiar tropes here. The detective story/noir feel has a distinct familiarity to it, as does the odd couple with history being forced to work together, so there is nothing groundbreaking there, but it is still watchable nonetheless.
The biggest selling point, presumably in the filmmakers minds - after all this was supposedly a passion project of Brian Henson’s - is the idea of subverting our warm cuddly childhood memories of muppets, and getting his puppet characters to effectively act and talk dirty. While there are a couple of memorable scenes involving silly string and a cow being milked (don’t ask!), the smut doesn’t quite work and soon falls a little flat. This is partly because the script just isn’t tight enough, and most of the best bits were in the trailer, but also because the idea has already been done before to great effect with Ted or even Team America.
The film also fails to explore the treatment of puppets as second class citizens, or the relationships between some people and puppets – something that initially reminded me of District 9, but soon faded.
Melissa McCarthy does her best with a limited script, but this will go down as another failed venture for her, while Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph and Joel McHale have little room to shine.
In A Nutshell:
A great idea but poorly executed with a weak script and not enough jokes, with the film undecided as to whether it is a comedy, or a crime drama.
The initial concept
It’s all been done before, but mostly better
Release date: 26/12/2018