To kill a muppet

Adult puppet feature is a dull and joyless affront to Kermit and the gang

Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.
Rated 1.0

With The Muppets franchise currently stalled, Brian Henson, chairman of the Jim Henson Co. and son of its founder/namesake, has decided to take puppets in an adult direction. After all, his late father had a less kid-focused incarnation for his Muppets in mind way back in the ’70s when they appeared on the first season of Saturday Night Live (it’s true!). A raunchier band of puppets would seem an acceptable addition to the Henson legacy.

The Happytime Murders is a product of Henson Alternative, a branch of the Jim Henson Co., and after watching this listless, joyless, humorless exercise in how not to make a puppet movie, it’s safe to say that the public will not be hankering for more adult-puppet shenanigans anytime soon.

The film is set up like your standard puppets-interacting-with-humans Muppet movie, but Kermit and company are banned from the set in favor of bland, seriously unfunny puppets that fail to distinguish themselves in any way. Henson directs (his first big-screen directing gig since 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island), and it’s a lost puppet cause. His directing chops have not aged well.

Melissa McCarthy—having a disastrous year with this and the terrible Life of the Party—takes the lead human role as Det. Connie Edwards, former partner of puppet-cop-turned-private-investigator Phil Philips (puppeteer Bill Barretta).

The two find themselves teaming up again when puppet cast members of ’80s TV show The Happytime Gang start getting the cotton knocked out of them in a series of visually uncreative murders. OK, the one puppet getting shredded by a band of dogs led by a Boston terrier made me chuckle a little, but it’s only because I have a Boston terrier currently living in my home, and I’m pretty sure she would shred a living puppet if given the chance.

While there are hints of some funny premises (Connie got a puppet liver transplant, so she’s trag-ically addicted to sugar), none of them are taken to fruitfully funny extremes. That’s because screenwriter Todd Berger thinks simply being naughty is enough for a laugh. There’s no room for wit or depth in his land of puppetry, just F-bombs and silly-string ejaculate. Frankly, I’m surprised the film doesn’t have an overload of puppet farts. (Puppet farts might have actually been funny.)

Other human actors looking totally lost include Joel McHale as an FBI guy (I couldn’t help but notice that McHale’s hairpiece/transplants look less convincing than the hair on the puppet heads). Maya Rudolph fares a little better as Phil’s human secretary, Bubbles, but Leslie David Baker appears to be in serious pain delivering his typical police chief lines. Elizabeth Banks gets the worst gig as Jenny, the only human member of The Happytime Gang, who is forced to make out with Phil.

Let it be known that I, above many, was very much up for some nastily funny puppet activity. I still think Team America: World Police is one of the 21st century’s funniest movies. The Happytime Murders had good people involved, but alas, a mundane McCarthy and babbling blue felt heads add up to what will stand as one of the year’s lousiest, and perhaps qualify for the list of the century’s worst.

I would say that nothing good comes out of The Happytime Murders, but maybe its failure will create a hankering for the return of Kermit and friends.