By Anna Husted EBS Film Critic
Brian Henson’s “The Happytime Murders” is a funny, clever, R-rated film noir comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and a puppet, Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta).
“The Happytime Murders” follows private investigator Philips as he works a case for a Sharon Stone/Mary Astor-type puppet, Sandra. Sandra is being blackmailed by whoever is killing off members of the hit TV Show, “The Happytime Gang,” which starred seven gregarious puppets and one human (Elizabeth Banks). Philips figures out that if one cast member of the show dies, their syndication royalties go to the rest of the cast. He teams up with his old police partner, Connie Edwards (McCarthy) to figure out which cast member is offing the rest of them for the money.
In a brilliant comedic choice, small domesticated dogs, such as a Boston terrier, are the weapon of choice to kill off these puppets. After all, puppets are just made of fluff, right?
“The Happytime Gang” is an important TV Show for many puppets because the show getting picked up was the sole time in history when humans accepted puppets. In the world of “The Happytime Murders” puppets are ostracized for being nothing but fluff. One member of The Happytime Gang goes so far as to bleach his blue skin to make it whiter and gets a nose job to have a more human nose. Puppets struggle to make ends meet and even turn to their form of drugs: maple syrup, pixie sticks, licorice—anything with that “high” fructose corn syrup so they can forget their problems.
With homages to many great film noir movies, such as “The Maltese Falcon,” “Body Double,” and “Basic Instinct,” “The Happytime Murders” has many Easter eggs for lovers of the classic Hollywood P.I. genre.
While “The Happytime Murders” isn’t a masterpiece by any means, it’s hilarious and even ingenious at times. I was hoping it would push the boundaries of adult-themed puppetry even farther than it did, giving us more of the “Basic Instinct” femme fatale “money shot” sequences, but it still satisfies with its dark sense of humor.
The film established its sense of humor before I even entered the theater due to the irony that director Brian Henson is not only the son of the famous Muppeteer Jim Henson, but also the director of “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island.” Henson is setting us up to laugh at this misdirection because “The Happytime Murders” couldn’t be more different from his other Muppet movies. That said, I wouldn’t recommend parents take their kids to see this latest one.
A Muppet fan since childhood, I enjoy any journey these crazy puppets take me on—even one as sadistically determined as “The Happytime Murders.”
The film is now playing at Gallatin Valley Regal Cinema.
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky she can be found at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema or hiking up a mountain. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s running, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.