The Happytime Murders
Directed by Brian Henson
The Happytime Murders is a Family Guy cutaway stretched out for 90 minutes. A 90 minute long Robot Chicken skit. There is nothing original going on here. Happytime is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with puppets and swearing and bodily fluids. Happytime is Team America with none of the subtlety. Happytime is Crank Yankers without the charm. Happytime is Greg the Bunny without the satire. Happytime is Meet the Feebles without the heroin. Happytime is the kind of movie that thinks it's being funny when repeating jokes from Wayne's World. Want to see the funniest stuff in Happytime? Watch the red band trailer. There, I just saved you some hard earned dollars.
Happytime is not only borrowing heavily from, well, everywhere, it's boring. The pacing is all over the place. The tone is all over the place. The narrative is all over the place. The theme is all over the place. Happytime wants to be a puppet parody of film noir and it wants to be a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy and it wants to be a statement on race relations in Los Angeles while being a hard R comedy with heart. But instead of Sausage Party, it's more Bright. Happytime is the kind of movie where one of the best jokes in its entire running time is during the credits.
Somehow Brian Henson and his team have created a film that feels both heavily improvised and heavily re-written by uncredited screen writers. And somehow Brian Henson got financing to work out complicated feelings about his father.
But, you're asking, is Happytime funny? And, yeah, there are a few laugh out loud moments. Some chuckles. One or two guffaws. A couple of giggles. But the weird pacing sucks the air out of the room and suffocates any build up to the next laugh. Happytime isn't Sausage Party. It isn't a Deadpool. It isn't This is the End. Hard R high concept comedies shouldn't be a chore, they should be non-stop, they should keep building until the audience is gasping for air. They should have you wondering how much you missed when you were trying to catch your breath and the audience around you was rolling on the floor laughing. You should be raving to your friends about the crudeness and rudeness and saying things like "I can't believe they got away with that" and "I can't believe they did this". And you should be rolling your eyes at anyone who says things like "that was sick" and "that wasn't funny, it was offensive". Lines should just not be crossed, they should be set on fire and their ashes spread to the wind.
Instead, Happytime will be that movie where puppets swore and ejaculated and Melissa McCarthy did some funny stuff but nothing much else happened.
Happytime wastes some great talent - Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker, Michael McDonald. None of them do anything of note. Melissa McCarthy has some moments but overall this is among the worst things she's been involved in. If nothing else, Happytime made me want to re-watch Spy and Heat. Happytime definitely has the feel of some actors looking at the offer and calculating if they could make it home for supper at the end of a shooting day. For the most part everyone is so uninspired they may have just been walking by the set when they got asked to read some lines. Maya Rudolph is one of the few sparks of life in a flatlining film. She is all in, a real charming and funny presence. She brings all of the Maya Rudolph-ness to her role and just slays.
But the movie doesn't deserve Maya Rudolph, it doesn't deserve any of the cast no matter how somnambulistic the performance. How boring is Happytime? It's so boring I spent some time wondering if somnambulistic is a word. And it is, look at that. Anyway. The movie has a very lazy TV feel to it. The blocking is rudimentary, potential joke set ups are lost, threads are lost. Of course when we look at Brian Henson's other directing jobs and… Oh. Oh, my. Well, The Muppet Christmas Carol is beloved.
I think the most frustrating thing about Happytime is wondering what a team like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg might have done with this concept. Looking back at their hard R classics, like Superbad and This is the End and Sausage Party and Pineapple Express, with their fully realized worlds and ability to hide deep thoughts behind a stoner veneer, I can't help but want to visit the timeline where they made a hard R rated puppet movie. But I can't and I'm stuck here in this timeline and I'm writing about Brian Henson and his father issues and The Happytime Murders. This is truly the darkest timeline, indeed.
So, for all of my dislike of Happytime do I recommend it? Not in a theatre. Nope, definitely not. Sitting around with some friends and getting a little puzzled and wondering what to rent? Sure, rent it. It might work in a room full of smoke with some good friends in a similar head space. Do I think The Happytime Murders is the worst film of the year? Nah, nowhere that bad. This has been a banner year for finding new ways to make bad films, looking at you Red Sparrow. Is Happytime the one and only time I will see a puppet vagina in a theatre? I honestly hope so. I really do.