CAUGHT BY THE FUZZY
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (15) But these puerile puppets will leave you wishing that you hadn’t been
IN 2003, Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q imagined an alternate reality in which humans and puppets co-exist and two hand-operated felt characters engage in vigorous on-stage coitus while a tenant of the building sings You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want When You’re Makin’ Love.
The Happytime Murders – a twist on the buddy cop genre with Melissa McCarthy starring opposite a fuzzy blue puppet called Phil – arrives woefully late to the same raucous, expletive-laden party without the uproarious laughter.
Directed by Brian Henson, whose father created The Muppets, this filthy-minded whodunnit dangles loosely on outlandish sex scenes and a homage to Basic Instinct that serves a narrative purpose.
At one of the film’s initial crime scenes, a private investigator casts a beady eye over a ransom note and is drawn to a curlicued capital letter that appears to have been snipped from the pages of an adult magazine.
“This mystery was brought to you by the letter P,” he growls in a forlorn effort to prick our nostalgia for Sesame Street.
The gumshoe is correct: Henson’s film is puerile, pitiful, potty-mouthed, predictable, preposterous and politically incorrect to the point of tedium.
Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta) is a disgraced former cop in present-day Los Angeles who accepts cases on behalf of fellow puppets, who are treated as second-class citizens because they are felt rather than flesh and bone.
“It ain’t a crime to be warm and fuzzy. It might as well be,” laments Phil.
When his older brother Larry (Victor Yerrid), who starred in the popular 1980s TV show The Happytime Gang, is targeted by a psychopath, Phil reunites with his former partner Detective Connie Edwards (McCarthy) from the LAPD to crack the case.
“Nobody turns my brother into a dog toy and gets away with it!” rages Phil.
His old flame Jenny (Elizabeth Banks) is in the killer’s sights along with co-stars Goofer (Drew Massey), Lyle (Kevin Clash) and the twins Cara (Colleen Smith) and Ezra (Ted Michael).
Phil’s adoring secretary Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) supports her boss as he clashes with Lieutenant Banning (Leslie David Baker) and snarky FBI agent Campbell (Joel McHale).
Contrary to the title, The Happytime Murders inspires little joy. There is fleeting amusement to be milked from the on-screen coupling of an octopus and a cow and it’s difficult to stifle a snigger when Phil ‘takes a meeting’ with a pretty client Sandra (Dorien Davies) that ends with cries of mutual pleasure.
However, scriptwriter Todd Berger repeatedly shoots blanks when McCarthy’s cop trades barbs with her handmade co-stars, and the copious drug-taking – puppets get high on sugar – is a downer.
The human cast sift through the wreckage in search of decent one-liners but unearth nothing.