The Happytime Murders¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Cert: 15, 1hr 31mins¬†
Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets and for millions of us the only real voice of Kermit the Frog, died 28 years ago, and for most of those three decades his legacy has seemed splendidly secure.
In the ten years after his father‚Äôs death, son Brian directed two Muppet feature films ‚Äď including the much-loved Muppet Christmas Carol ‚Äď and produced a third. Even when The Muppets were sold to Walt Disney in 2004, their future seemed set fair, despite only modest success at the box office for The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014).
And then Brian Henson ‚Äď yes, the same Brian Henson who directed the delicious Muppet Christmas Carol ‚Äď appeared to have what I can only describe as a brainstorm, convincing himself that what the world really needed was an adult, X-certificate gross-out comedy starring, if not the actual Muppets (Disney would never have allowed that), then puppet characters that are clearly Muppet-inspired. The Happytime Murders is the extraordinary result.
Melissa McCarthy in The Happytime Murders (2018).¬†It really is the strangest film: the disaster is that it‚Äôs not funnier
The first F-word lands within seconds; the first visit to a puppet sex shop within minutes. Those of a nervous disposition will be relieved to know that it‚Äôs the best part of an hour before the first puppet sex scene arrives, albeit in a way that, like so much in this provocatively tasteless movie, defies description in a family newspaper possibly being read over the Sunday breakfast table. It really is the strangest film: the disaster is that it‚Äôs not funnier.
But at least some of the structural components are readily recognisable. For just as the wonderful Who Framed Roger Rabbit posited a world shared by human and cartoon characters alike, so The Happytime Murders imagines a Los Angeles where human and puppet exist alongside each other, albeit with puppets very much the social underdogs. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs not a crime to be warm and fuzzy,‚Äô growls the central character of Phil Phillips, ‚Äėbut it might as well be.‚Äô
Phillips is a private investigator, underlining another similarity with Roger Rabbit, namely that this also has aspirations to be a film noir, complete with private eye and a femme fatale.¬†
The first F-word lands within seconds; the first visit to a puppet sex shop within minutes. Those of a nervous disposition will be relieved to know that it‚Äôs the best part of an hour before the first puppet sex scene arrives
But while Jessica Rabbit undoubtedly had class alongside those cartoon curves, from the moment Sandra White ‚Äď a puppet ‚Äď sashays into Phillips‚Äôs office complaining that she‚Äôs being blackmailed by people threatening to expose her insatiable sexual appetite, it‚Äôs clear she and ‚Äėclass‚Äô have never been intimately acquainted.
Nevertheless, he takes the case and it‚Äôs while pursuing the first clue ‚Äď nope, can‚Äôt explain that either, just as I daren‚Äôt even mention the octopus and the cow ‚Äď that the first killing takes place.¬†
And when a second soon follows, it becomes clear that someone is killing the cast of The Happytime Gang¬†‚Äď apparently the first show to be enjoyed by humans and puppets alike ‚Äď one by one.¬†
The simple facts are that Todd Berger‚Äôs screenplay is not clever enough, funny enough or classy enough to entertain a wider audience
But with that cast including Phillips‚Äôs brother (a particularly vain puppet with bleached skin tones and a human nose) and a former girlfriend (human), it‚Äôs not long before he becomes suspect and investigator.
Spare a thought for the human actors involved, although in the case of Melissa McCarthy, who plays the human detective who used to be Phillips‚Äôs police partner, perhaps not too much of one.¬†
She has, after all, made a lot of pretty tasteless films herself, although a scene that sees her wrestling in a hot tub with a blue felt puppet before biting him in the groin surely represents a new career low.
The name of the Muppets TV show pilot, seen in 1975, was The Muppet Show: Sex And Violence. Its host was not Kermit but Nigel the orchestra conductor.
Elsewhere, Elizabeth Banks makes a brief but still surely ill-advised appearance as an actress-turned-stripper, while Maya Rudolph, hitherto almost escaping with her professional dignity intact as Phillips‚Äôs quietly besotted secretary, Bubbles, is eventually reduced to putting on a brave professional face while yet more unmentionable goings-on unfold messily behind her.
Yes, it will make a few teenagers giggle, what with a d√©nouement that involves a puppet replay of Sharon Stone‚Äôs leg-crossing scene from Basic Instinct.¬†
But the simple facts are that Todd Berger‚Äôs screenplay is not clever enough, funny enough or classy enough to entertain a wider audience ‚Äď shortcomings that Henson‚Äôs lacklustre direction cannot conceal.¬†
Father Jim must be spinning in his grave.
Cold War (15)¬†
The Polish-born but UK-based director Pawel Pawlikowski‚Äôs latest, Cold War, which won him the Best Director prize at Cannes this year, is a beautifully made film. It‚Äôs made in Polish, shot in black and white and set in the long aftermath of the Second World War as Poland became a communist satellite of the Soviet Union.¬†
With the art of the people rather than an intellectual elite favoured by the new regime, handsome Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a talented musician, is put in joint charge of auditions for a new state-run school for folk music and dance.
It‚Äôs there he spots the beautiful Zula (Joanna Kulig), beginning a turbulent love affair that has to overcome defection, separation, marriage and even imprisonment along the way. If the sudden unresolved ending disappoints it‚Äôs only because we‚Äôd like the whole thing to go on much longer.
The Polish-born but UK-based director Pawel Pawlikowski‚Äôs latest, Cold War , which won him the Best Director prize at Cannes this year, is a beautifully made film
Idris Elba is a fine actor and all the signs are that he could be a decent film-maker too as he makes his debut with Yardie, a gritty thriller that follows D (Aml Ameen), a young, small-time Jamaican criminal, as he travels in 1983 from Kingston, Jamaica, to East London.¬†
He‚Äôs supposed to be delivering cocaine but when he takes exception to the intended buyer, he decides to go into business himself.
The uncompromising Jamaican accents may limit its commercial appeal but Ameen is good, the soundtrack terrific and Stephen Graham extraordinary as a white gangster (although Graham‚Äôs grandfather was Jamaican) affecting a Jamaican accent because he thinks it makes him sound cool. Would be funny if it wasn‚Äôt quite so frightening.
Idris Elba is a fine actor and all the signs are that he could be a decent film-maker too as he makes his debut with Yardie , a gritty thriller that follows D (Aml Ameen), a young, small-time Jamaican criminal, as he travels in 1983 from Kingston, Jamaica, to East London
Using the same gimmick as the Unfriended franchise, Searching¬†unfolds almost entirely on a PC screen, as a young teenager goes missing and her father (John Cho) has to break into her online life to find her.¬†
The tech savvy displayed by a middle-aged man will intimidate many but it‚Äôs the dramatic but far-fetched late twist that does the damage.¬†¬†