When I watched the red band trailer for “The Happytime Murders” a few months ago with a live audience, many of us placed this puppet movie on our “must-see” summer hit list. The preview for the dark comedy pushed the edges of what seemed to be a risqué and grotesque movie of sideshow humor—perhaps able to join the likes of mega-blockbuster hits “Deadpool” and its 2018 sequel.
Unfortunately, “The Happytime Murders” doesn’t live up to film’s pre-release hype or the promise of rapid-fire laughs. Instead, a simplistic G-rated murder plot that first-year filmmakers could’ve produced gets dragged across the movie screen for 91 minutes. Such a wasted opportunity.
A terrific premise of a human-puppet interactive world in contemporary Los Angeles gets watered down with a bland screenplay despite the reliable comedy-gold Melissa McCarthy co-starring. Another Hollywood heavyweight, the widely popular and funny Elizabeth Banks from the vastly popular “Pitch Perfect” film series, is also only able to lift this movie from borderline boring to mildly entertaining.
Director Brian Henson, the son of Muppets creator and legend Jim Henson, really needed a screenplay crew on par with Ryan Reynolds and his “Deadpool” scriptwriters to take full advantage of an incredible premise this puppet show demanded. The roll-up: A former LAPD officer and now private investigator puppet name Phil Phillips gets reacquainted with his ex-partner and police detective Connie Edwards (McCarthy) to solve a rash of Los Angeles’ puppet murders.
With top-shelf comedy writers, the storyline possibilities and laughs could’ve been endless. What transpires in “The Happytime Murders” is both weak and utterly predictable. The dark humor more reserved than the previews allude to and the laughs barely rising over a small chuckle in a handful of scenes.
Overall, “The Happytime Murders” is a wasted film opportunity that never fully exposes the human vs. puppet competition. Wrapped in a bland, overused murder plot remains the hidden the comedic powers of Banks and McCarthy. The movie reiterates the notion that a great film always starts with a great script. Put this film’s narrative in the hands of funny storytellers like “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane or the gang of writers from the mega-successful “Deadpool” series and this movie might have been spectacular.