A few critics are calling it the worst movie of the year. Unfair! The Happytime Murders, the R-rated look at a serial killer running wild in a puppet-populated L.A., has what it takes to be a contender for worst of the decade. Directed by Brian Henson (son of the late, great Sesame Street and Muppets icon Jim Henson) and starring a painfully stranded Melissa McCarthy, this toxic botch job deserves an early death by box office. It’s not that smutty puppets are a bad idea (see: Team America: World Police, Meet the Feebles, Ted or the musical Avenue Q), it’s just that Henson and flailing screenwriter Todd Berger don’t have a clue how to make the damn thing funny. Instead, they play it like randy kids who snuck into the Henson workshop and thought it would be cool to see a puppet pecker splooge a geyser of Silly String. Then there’s the dialogue: “For 50 cents I’ll suck your dick,” says a hunk of felt to McCarthy’s L.A. cop Connie Edwards. “It’s a great price,” says McCarthy. “Almost makes me wish I had a dick for you to suck.” Bada-boom.
The plot turns on a series of murders victimizing the cast of a 1980s children’s show called The Happytime Gang. Most of the onetime stars are on now the skids, lurking in an L.A. underworld where they co-exist tensely with the human population before being picked off one by one. Is a point about race and inclusion being made here? You wish. Henson and Berger don’t engage in subtext.
Connie is assigned to solve the murders with the help of puppet detective Phil Philips (voiced and manipulated by Bill Barretta), once Connie’s partner until the LAPD canned him for shooting a puppet civilian in the line of duty. Connie, who nearly died during the incident, was the proud recipient of a puppet liver as a result. The liver bit serves as a desperate attempt at plot development — and it’s not even the worst example.
Phil’s other human contacts include his former girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), the only flesh-and-blood actor on The Happytime Gang, and his loyal secretary Bubbles, played by Maya Rudolph, who acts like she’s in a much better, wittier movie, which this one is whenever she’s onscreen. Sadly, Henson is far less interested in wit than in shooting up puppets until their insides explode in a shitstorm of felt and cotton. The Happytime Murders is the first film from The Jim Henson Company’s new division, the adult-themed Henson Alternative. Maybe its gargantuan god-awfulness is not a exactly a sin against cinema. But throw away your money on a ticket and you’re in for two hours of certain hell.