I tend to really enjoy Noir stories. The Happytime Murders (2018) takes the Noir genre and executes a compelling enough detective story and undercuts the drama, intrigue, and tension with juvenile humor primarily told through puppets. While the film is no Double Indemnity or Chinatown, I couldn’t help but find myself wrapped up in the story. Plus, I tend to like the Henson films, though I’ve never seen one quite like this.
Happy Time Murders could be called moderately enjoyable time
Puppet Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is a disgraced police officer turned Private Investigator who finds himself at the scene of a puppet massacre while working another case. Phil’s old partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), shows up and tries to declare it a robbery gone wrong until Phil points out that the robber left the money. It becomes clear as more killings that place that these aren’t just isolated crimes, but rather a string of connected murders that forces the two to partner up once again.
Most of the laughs in the film only occur if you are easily shocked by puppets making sex jokes. I sat through Sausage Party and thus have been desensitized to the shock value those jokes could have made, instead finding them predictable. Maya Rudolph, however, was extremely funny as Phil’s secretary, Bubbles. She doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but the performance she brings mixed with her usual comedic sensibilities make her the obvious standout for the film.
The detective story elements of the film primarily work. Phil’s tragic story and possible redemption tale work for the most part, but they are definitely undercut by the novelty of puppet’s in an R-rated film. McCarthy gets a couple of laughs, but her storyline has some of the more ridiculous moments. That and the idea that puppets are the minority who are constantly the victims of prejudice make the film all the more ridiculous. Similar to Sausage Party, the commentary that the film tries to include feels forced and tacked on. It’s just a part of the world the characters are in but isn’t a motive for anything else.
I didn’t hate The Happytime Murders as much as everyone else seems to. The audience in my screening laughed quite a bit, but there was food and alcohol available in that particular theater. While I only had water (that I paid $5 for a bottle of, and it was served warm with a glass of regular ice), I still had a better time than I had expected. Thus, The Happytime Murders earned the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.