Film Review: The Happytime Murders

Having seen the trailer for this movie I didn’t go in with especially high hopes, I thought it would be good for a few laughs, but the trailer appeared quite crude and silly.

happytime pos

So, it was a pleasant surprise when the movie began with a film noir style narration and an interesting twist on the puppet aspect of the film. While the puppets appear in a variety of shapes and sizes, they are all clearly identified as puppets. The human characters don’t just go along with it as they do in The Muppet movies, they see them as puppets. This is the basis for one aspect of the film, that it takes place in a world where puppets are real, but treated as second class citizens.

This interesting beginning is never capitalised on, and while there is a subplot of anti-puppet bias it never pays off the way I expected or hoped it to, that this silly film would actually have a serious message at heart. But the puppets don’t fit as an analogue for any marginalised group in real life, and so it just feels like a clever touch that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s also inconsistently handled in the film, with some puppets being accepted or successful while others are mocked and struggle.

The noir style pays off a lot better, with our hero, the puppet PI Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) being the typical noir hero, a sarky, chain-smoking, hard drinking disgraced cop who gets caught up in a larger web. Phil’s backstory, that he was the first puppet in the LAPD before being kicked off when it was speculated that puppets won’t or can’t shoot other puppets.

happytime phil

Phil is approached by a young puppet, Sandra White (Dorien Davies), who is being blackmailed. The trail takes Phil to a puppet adult bookstore, where he bumps into an old acquaintance Mr Bumblyplants (Kevin Clash), while Phil investigates files in a backroom, a mysterious figure arrives, gunning down Bumblypants and the other puppets in the building.

The case is investigated by Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), Phil’s former partner who testified against him. She believes it to be a robbery gone wrong until Phil points out that all the cash was left behind.

Mr Bumblyplants formerly worked with Phil’s brother Larry (Victor Yerrid) on a successful television show, The Happytime Gang, which is now going into syndication. Larry, who has attempted to look as human as possible through surgery, is excited by the new earnings this will bring.

Shortly after, Larry is killed too, torn apart by dogs released into his house. Phil, eager to catch his brother’s killer reluctantly agrees to work with Edwards and the two discover that The Happytime Gang cast all stand to earn substantial cash from the syndication, which is divided equally among them. If a cast member dies it transfers to their spouse, but if unmarried, their share is divided between the other cast members.

Which one of the Gang is behind it? And are the other cast members safe? And is there more to the case than just greed?

The plot is surprisingly clever, with a couple of red herrings and twists, in keeping with the noir inspiration. In fact, it unfolds quite nicely and genuinely caught me by surprise. Similarly, the relationship between Phil and Edwards is handled rather well, and provides the emotional core of the movie.

Unfortunately, this emotion is undercut because the filmmakers are always trying to sneak another gag in, not letting the quieter moments breathe properly. The gags come quick and fast throughout, but a lot of them feel lazy and easy. While seeing puppets doing things like having sex and abusing drugs is initially novel and amusing, the film overplays this, skewing towards the crude and vulgar.

I laughed a fair few times, but it always feels like it should do better.

It’s decent enough to pass the time, and amuses in places, but on the whole this feels a little flat and the kind of movie that once seen you don’t have any real desire to see it again.

Verdict: A few nice touches and a clever, noirish plot are let down by some lazy gags, over reliance on gross out and attempts to shock. Merely “alright”. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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