As a lifelong Muppet fan, I root for anything the Jim Henson company turns its attention to, with or without the Muppets. Jim’s son Brian Henson directed this parody of hard-boiled film noir murder mysteries. Puppet characters interact with live actors like Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, and Elizabeth Banks. Someone is brutally murdering the stars of a 1980s TV kid show whose lives have gone sour, and no one knows why.
The production is attributed to HA!, which stands for Henson Alternative. You can’t say they didn’t warn us. The Happytime Murders is awash in sex (of all kinds), violence, and a truckload of four-letter words. At first the shock value delivers some laughs but it doesn’t take long for the whole concept to go flat.
It’s the ultimate “meta” movie because the puppets are completely aware that they are puppets, and are routinely abused by the humans they meet up with.
Muppet veteran Bill Baretta plays the cynical protagonist, a former LAPD detective who was busted from the force and now works as a private eye. Circumstance pairs him up with his former partner (McCarthy), who’s not happy about the reunion. They have a sad, frustrating history, which we learn about piece by piece. Screenplay credit goes to Todd Berger, working from a story he wrote with Dee Austin Robinson.
As you’d expect from any Henson enterprise, movie wizardry is on display in abundance; we even see how some seemingly simple visual-effects shots were accomplished during the closing credits. But that requires you to sit through a nearly-interminable 90 minutes, and it’s not worth the sacrifice.
There is nothing happy about The Happytime Murders, I regret to say, and that’s a real shame.