The Happytime Murders
Jacob Richardson | 23/08/2018
Puppets like you’ve never seen them; a hard-boiled film noir with the classic femme fatale, all overlayed with sometimes on the nose but oft hilarious interplay between a human and puppet cop duo.
This is a world where puppets and humans co-exist; albeit, not all that peacefully, as humanity regards puppetry with disgust and revulsion. Private investigator Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) was the first puppet cop on the force, until a terrible accident with his partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) not only forced him to resign, but also meant that no puppet in the future could join the blue and white. When Phil’s brother is killed by a murderer seemingly out to kill everyone associated with television show The Happytime Gang, Phil and his ex-Partner Connie must join forces once again.
Directed by Brian Henson, The Happytime Murders is often tremendously bleak. It’s also often tremendously funny. Henson balances the necessary darkness to hit the genre notes he is so clearly going for by using the puppetry for most of the violence. One imagines this wouldn’t be nearly as comedic if everytime someone was murdered there wasn’t an explosion of white fluff, but a mass of blood.
The comedy skews from incredibly witty takedowns of genre tropes (whether sly references to Sharon Stone, smart lock-picking gags or cute double-entendres) to crass, over-the-top gross out humor (Phillips ‘finishing’ in his office is one example). In that way, it often plays to both halves of an audience. But at the same time some of the flavour of a smart dark comedy is lost.
Barretta is seemingly doing his best De Niro for his performance as Phillips, which is tremendously welcome. He nails the hurt, self-sacrificial tone of the film noir heroes of old. McCarthy, too, is on fine form; a return to the comedic stylings from some of her more well-reviewed hits like Bridesmaids and The Heat. Speaking of Bridesmaids, Maya Rudolph is a surprising delight as Bubbles, the private investigators long suffering and oddly resourceful secretary.
The low points come when we leave the puppets, and this odd cop duo, behind and try and progress the story. In particular, Joel McHale as FBI Agent Campbell falls repeatedly flat, and when he is on screen the humor around him tends to aim for more low brow.
It’s a shame, because when this movie aims straight for genre takedown, it works tremendously. When it goes off parody, not so much.
Funnier than it had any right to be, and at times a really smart send-up of the film noir genre.