THE HAPPYTIME MUR­DERS

★★

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN - Ver­dict DAN JOLIN

OUT NOW CERT 15 / 91 MINS

DI­REC­TOR Brian hen­son

CAST Melissa Mccarthy, El­iz­a­beth Banks, Maya Ru­dolph, Bill Bar­retta, Kevin Clash

PLOT When a killer tar­gets the pup­pet cast of ’90s TV show The Happytime Gang, ex-cop pup­pet pri­vate eye and prime sus­pect Phil Philips (Bar­retta) re-teams with his old, hu­man part­ner De­tec­tive Con­nie Ed­wards (Mccarthy) to find the cul­prit and clear his name.

THE IDEA OF an ‘adults only’ pup­pet-based com­edy is hardly stuffed with nov­elty value. Way back in 1989, Peter Jack­son or­ches­trated cat-on­wal­rus fel­la­tio — among count­less other felt-based atroc­i­ties — in his know­ingly dis­taste­ful Meet The Fee­bles. More re­cently we got Av­enue Q on the stage and Team Amer­ica: World Po­lice on the big screen. But The Happytime Mur­ders does give the freaky-fuzzy sub-genre a bit of a fresh spin, with a neat Roger Rab­bit-es­que set-up that es­tab­lishes a world where pup­pets ex­ist along­side hu­mans, even if they’re treated as in­or­ganic in­fe­ri­ors.

at its heart is a clas­sic mis­matched­cop part­ner­ship, with weary, blue-felt gumshoe Phil (per­formed by long-time Mup­peteer Bar­retta), once the only pup­pet on the Lapd, re­luc­tantly pair­ing up with his abra­sive for­mer part­ner Con­nie (Mccarthy) af­ter his ac­tor brother is mur­dered by a mys­te­ri­ous killer in­tent on wip­ing out the cast of an old TV show, all of them pup­pets (aside from el­iz­a­beth Banks’ to­ken hu­man). Thanks to the ex­per­tise of Bar­retta’s pup­petry, you quickly for­get one half of this bud­dy­com­edy dou­ble act is a glo­ri­fied hand in a sock, and in ad­di­tion to the ban­ter they pull off, you can even feel the af­fec­tion be­tween these two char­ac­ters as they grad­u­ally get over their past dif­fer­ences and re-warm to each other.

The world, too, is im­pres­sively mounted, with di­rec­tor Brian hen­son (son of Jim) ob­vi­ously a dab, sock-swathed hand at this. Cgi-as­sisted pup­pets strut and scam­per around the streets of La like it’s the most nat­u­ral thing in the world, whether they’re lift­ing weights on Mus­cle Beach, snort­ing sugar in a poker den, or per­form­ing bizarre sex­ual acts for porn videos (look out for some milky, Fee­bles-es­que oc­to­pus-cow ac­tion).

Yes, that’s right: Happytime rev­els in its shaggy-pup­pet not-for-kids-ness. But to­tally over­does it, flog­ging the same shtick un­til it’s numb. The sad truth is, it’s just not that funny — a cru­cial fail­ing in a com­edy. The gags fly like fur dur­ing a cat­fight, but far too few of them land, re­ly­ing too much on the in­con­gruity of cute(ish) goo­gly-eyed toy-things say­ing and do­ing bawdy things.

it says a lot that the movie’s fun­ni­est se­quence fea­tures no pup­pets at all, just a brief team­ing of Mccarthy with Maya Ru­dolph (as Phil’s sec­re­tary Bub­bles). as if, with­out any brightly hued, bouncy cre­ations around, hen­son and co re­alised they had to re­ally fo­cus on the com­edy in­ter­play. else­where, it’s all about lame sex gags (silly-string jizz!), drug ref­er­ences that fall flat (pup­pets get high on sugar, ha ha?) and say­ing rude words.

So for all the meta-cul­ture-clash­ing prom­ise of the world, when it comes to de­liv­er­ing ac­tual laughs, The Happytime Mur­ders fluffs it.

Who Framed Roger Rab­bit meets Meets The Fee­bles, in a dis­ap­point­ing adult com­edy that never lives up to the prom­ise of its premise.

Mr John­son had hit the skids since leav­ing Sesame Street.

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