‘The Hap­py­time Mur­ders’ is a dispir­ited ef­fort

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - MOVIES - BY COLIN COVERT

Some films are re­leased. Oth­ers es­cape. “The Hap­py­time Mur­ders” must have bro­ken free from con­fine­ment in the Hollywood Asy­lum for In­cur­able Come­dies, join­ing the late-sum­mer crowd of get­away ac­tion em­bar­rass­ments and unlov­able ro­mances.

This film noir par­ody full of faux-fur pup­pets is com­pletely thread­bare. It takes us to a present-day Los An­ge­les where hu­mans and mo­tion-cap­tured Mup­pet-ish char­ac­ters co­ex­ist, with un­ease in both camps. Peo­ple of­ten treat the sewn- to­gether sub­group with chau­vin­ist dis­dain and call them by the F word: Fuzzy.

They have lit­tle pro­tec­tion ex­cept for de­tec­tive Phil Phillips (voice artist Bill Bar­retta), a blue-col­ored, hard-drink­ing ex-cop who nar­rates the story like El­more Leonard with writer’s block. Even though he’s stuffed with fluff, Phil can throw a knock­down punch and stomp a hu­man thug into mince­meat, as we are shown in a fight scene of sur­pris­ing length.

Phil’s big case comes from a furry lit­tle vixen (voiced by Dorien Davies) who couldn’t pos­si­bly be a ma­nip­u­la­tive femme fa­tale in dis­guise, could she? Please wait while I check every de­tec­tive film ever made.

She sends him off to in­ves­ti­gate a black­mail let­ter that leads him to a scene where a mur­der is com­mit­ted be­hind his back. Phil be­comes the prime sus­pect among some of his for­mer LAPD col­leagues, in­clud­ing his ex- part­ner, Det. Con­nie Ed­wards (Melissa McCarthy).

The vic­tim was a pup­pet who co-starred with Phil’s brother on a pop­u­lar TV show of yes­ter­year, and as the other cast mem­bers are offed one af­ter an­other, their fluff stuff­ing cas­cades down like a snow flurry.

The point of di­min­ish­ing re­turns is reached about 15 min­utes in. Un­like other hu­man/ pre­tend hy­brids like “Who Framed Roger Rab­bit” or “Ted,” this movie over­plays the nov­elty and sur­prise of its gim­mick far too early.

Most of the cre­ations lack the goog­ley-eyed in­no­cence of their pro­ces­sors, and it’s es­tab­lished from the out­set that we shouldn’t ex­pect them to be on good be­hav­ior. The first un­ex­pected sex scene be­tween a pup­pet cow and oc­to­pus works on sheer shock value. Fol­low­ing that by in­tro­duc­ing pup­pet hook­ers, nymphos, ad­dicts and peep-show creeps spew­ing tor­rents of the hu­man F word rapidly wears out its wel­come.

The same goes for the film’s nearly non­stop vi­o­lence. A tug of war some dogs play with a liv­ing pup­pet that they treat like a stuffed toy gives “Hap­py­town” a sense of ab­sur­dity.

From the start, di­rec­tor Brian Hen­son ( Mup­pet mae­stro Jim Hen­son’s son) ag­gres­sively pushes the en­ve­lope of the R rat­ing, fir­ing off a del­uge of dia­log, ac­tion and im­agery that is in­tended to be funny be­cause it’s gross.

No film star­ring McCarthy is en­tirely with­out l aughs, and t here are mo­ments here. Still, even at a trim 80 min­utes, it feels over­long. This dispir­it­ing ef­fort is Hen­son’s first en­try of his new divi­sion’s adult pro­duc­tions, Hen­son Al­ter­na­tive. So much for be­gin­ner’s luck.

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