The day after I went to see The Happytime Murders, the new puppet mystery starring Melissa McCarthy, a colleague asked me what the worst part of it was. I struggled for a moment. Not because there weren’t bad parts, but because the entire movie is full of them. Should I say the cutaway puppet-porno gag involving what I think were tentacles and a cow? Or the Basic Instinct homage involving a puppet with purple puppet pubes? What about the movie’s entire plot being a very misguided racism analogy built around the idea that puppets are being persecuted and that some of them, to appear less puppet-y, bleach their blue felt? Or maybe it’s that it features an honest-to-goodness “asshole says what?” joke in this movie being released in 2018?
So, yeah, The Happytime Murders is bad. Directed by Brian Henson — son of Muppets legend Jim — it’s a pseudo-noir about a private investigator named Phil Philips (voiced by Muppets vet Bill Barretta). The incredibly lazy conceit is that in this version of Los Angeles puppets and humans coexist, but the puppets are considered lesser than their human counterparts. Phil used to be a cop until he became the reason that puppets were banned from that job because he accidentally killed an innocent bystander, a detail that, despite involving puppets, is about as grim as you’d expect. Anyway, the cast members of a TV show called The Happytime Gang — including Phil’s brother — are getting murdered and Phil is on the case with his human ex-partner Connie (Melissa McCarthy).