Friday, August 24, 2018

'Happytime Murders' brings no joy to Muppetland in a late-August misfire

Mixing silly and mostly tasteless film noir with an Agatha Christie-like plot certainly does no favors for an extremely R-rated band of Muppet relatives in “The Happytime Murders,” a rag-tag comedy whose late-August release blends perfectly with its ineptitude.

McCarthy and partner Phil Philips chase clues among the clueless.
I mean, there are maybe two big laughs in the whole shebang. A very loud one is produced right at the outset when a put-upon puppet shouts a well-placed expletive at an L.A. creep who rudely pushes him away from the cab each is trying to hail. Coming about an hour later, there's a gross, yet perfectly timed warning about the mirror being used to snort sugar, believe it or not, the drug of choice in a dirty den masquerading as a crack house.

Otherwise, there's nothing remotely perfect about some of the year's most incoherent screenwriting and a pair of totally outrageous sight gags -- both of which can be called sexually explicit, even as performed by some other puppets in a LaLa universe where humans treat them like scum-stained socks.

The most amazing -- and disappointing -- aspect of it all is that the guy pulling the strings here is director Brian Henson (who previously helmed so-so films called "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Muppet Treasure Island"). Of course, Brian is the son of the late Jim Henson, creator of all those lovable Muppets (including Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy), not to mention the education-oriented gang featured on PBS-TV's long-running and equally embraced "Sesame Street."

Now, we all know that the elder Henson always sought out a more adult audience, including by introducing those odd-looking creatures on "The Land of Gorch" sketches in a few very early episodes of "Saturday Night Live." What is so hard to believe about the current "Murders," though, is that Jim Henson actually would allow such poorly executed cinema to hit the big screen.

This is just shoddy filmmaking, folks, despite a premise that could and should have been a laugh riot, particularly with its (anti)hero, foul-mouthed puppet private eye Phil Philips, looking like a cross between Harvey Keitel and Count von Count (from the aforementioned "Sesame Street").

Longtime Muppet vocal whiz Bill Barretta effectively gives raunchy resonance to "disgraced" ex-cop Phil, investigating a string of serial murders opposite an assortment of allegedly real actors: Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, Michael McDonald and, primarily, Melissa McCarthy. By the way, Ms. McCarthy now has been credited as a producer on four consecutive largely humorless comedies.

Rated “R”: strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material; 1:31; $ and ½ out of $5

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