If you saw a trailer for The Happytime Murders and thought, “that looks …bad?” Well, that’s because The Happytime Murders is bad. Sometimes you can have an interesting concept, Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph and a bevvy of talented puppeteers on your side and it just doesn’t come together. In this case, it’s probably because Brian Henson and Todd Berger took the easy laugh over anything thoughtful or world-building every. single. time.
The end result is a 91-minute string of lazy sex jokes that begin to grate before the exposition has even played out. And here’s the bummer about that. Shock value only gets you so far. And if that’s all you have holding up your movie, the laughs run out long before the story does. It must be said, however, that when you’re about as skint as you can be and claim feature length, that’s something of an achievement. Particularly, when one considers that we get the entire history of a cop career gone bad, a peek behind the scenes of a once-beloved television show, a present-day murder spree and forays into seduction and sugar addiction (the smack of the puppet world), all in the space of a standard-issue Land Before Time sequel. Sometimes brevity is the soul of wit, here it’s just a reprieve from a joyless joke.
For all of the missteps, The Happytime Murders isn’t without people trying to make it work. Rudolph goes all in as a would-be satirical secretary that reads rather stereotypical, in spite of her best efforts. Meanwhile, McCarthy commits to an all-out brawl with her puppet co-stars in the one stand-out scene that finds her loose cannon Detective picking a fight with poker-playing gangsters, all in the name of smashing the patriarchy just a little bit. It’s a nod to the fact that the humor here is overwhelmingly sexist, but it’s not enough to wipe away the visceral layer of ick that’s bound to pool up around so many jizz jokes.
Granted, such humor was all over the trailers for this movie and done with some wit and restraint, it just might have worked. Done this way, it feels like the invention of a cohort of 12-year-old boys who have yet to realize that comedy requires more finesse to work at scale. This isn’t yelling “penis” in the lunchroom at school at collecting giggles, this is asking for people to choose your vision as a diversion, to go along with you for a ride and trust that you won’t waste their time. The Happytime Murders needn’t have been groundbreaking to do that, but it falls short even of the mark of passable summer comedy to keep you out of the heat. The talent that put their hearts into this picture deserved much better, and audiences do too.