The Happytime Murders is a dismal execution of a great premise, in which puppets (think Muppets) live alongside humans in Los Angeles as second-class citizens, the way toons and people did in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. When the felt cast members of a popular ’90s TV show start dying, grizzled puppet P.I. Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) teams up with flesh-and-blood police detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) — his partner back when he was briefly the LAPD’s first (and last) puppet cop — to unravel the mystery.
The hook is that the movie is gleefully filthy — puppets swear and have sex! — and has “gory” violence (crime scenes covered in fluff, like from the inside of a pillow). But Todd Berger’s screenplay is woefully under-written in that regard, relying too much on the juxtaposition of profanity and puppets for easy laughs, and getting bogged down in the straightforward film noir plot, which could have used more satire.
Directed by Brian Henson — yep, Jim Henson’s son — the film is funnier when it dwells on the logistics of a human/puppet society, where half the population is always at risk of being torn apart by a playful dog, and where humans show open contempt for their felt neighbors, insulting them right to their dumb faces. I love that the puppet equivalent of hard drugs is sugar, which Connie has a tolerance for (or perhaps an addiction to) because she received a puppet liver in a transplant.
It would also be better if it had more interaction between Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph, who plays Phil’s (human) secretary, Bubbles. But that’s true of almost all movies.