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“The Happytime Murders” mixes puppets with a hard boiled detective story

Believe it or not, The Happytime Murders isn’t the dirtiest film of the year. Sure, the Trailers suggested something so raunchy your mind almost shut down, but that’s merely part of this flick. There’s also an actual murder mystery to solve. Opening this week, it offers up something interesting for the late summer. Reviews haven’t been good, but I’ll stand out on a limb and state that I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. It’s not going to win any awards and probably is on the forgettable side, all things told, but it makes you laugh. If you like raunchy humor and puppets, you’ll like what’s being offered up here.

As you’ve gathered by now, the film is a mix of puppetry and humans, thrown into a comedic detective tale. Here is the official synopsis: “In the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, two clashing detectives — one human and the other a puppet — must work together to solve the brutal murders of former cast members of a beloved puppet TV show.” Private Investigator and former cop Phil Phillips (voice of Bill Barretta) is forced to team back up with his former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve a heinous crime. Apparently, someone is murdering the cast of a popular puppet television program. Lt. Banning (Leslie David Baker) wants them to work together, while FBI agent Campbell (Joel McHale) suspects Phil of the crime. Raunchy humor ensues, though the actual mystery comes to a close with an interestingly classic surprise. Brian Henson directs a script from Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson. The supporting humans here include Elizabeth Banks, Ben Falcone, Maya Rudolph, Jimmy O. Yang, and more. Among the puppet operators/voices, a notable one is Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo.

Most people don’t love this movie, I get it. It’s an easy one to make fun of. But, you know what? I laughed. A lot. And, at my press screening on Monday, so did a ton of the critics there to see it. Does that make a film good on its own? No, but it does serve its primary purpose. McCarthy is closer to her well used comedic self than when she’s poorly utilized, and enough of the jokes land to put a smile on your face. The flick is an easy target for my fellow critics, but in no way does it deserve the beating that it has received.

Honestly? I’d love to see Henson keep this up and direct some more. Other adult genres done with puppets? Count me in. There’s won’t be a sequel to this one, I can all but guarantee that, but Henson’s sensibilities are worth exploring more. The Muppets are another thing entirely, but there’s a place for a darker use of puppets. Jason Segel has explored both ends of the spectrum. Henson deserves the opportunity to continue trying. His improv show that he toured with years ago was brilliant. If this wasn’t on that level, it still shows his potential in a big way.

Starting tomorrow, you can see The Happytime Murders, which is nothing like the rest of the offerings in cinemas right now. Your expectations probably need to be kept in check if you were looking forward to it like I was, but if you’re assuming this is some sort of disaster, you may just be in for a surprise. Henson and company attempted something different here. It didn’t always succeed, but enough of it works to warrant a mild recommendation on my end. Ignore some of the worst reviews, which seemed to be mostly done to please the writers themselves, and give this one a look…

Be sure to check out The Happytime Murders, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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