It’s F-bombs away. The word leaps from the cloth lips of the Muppet-like puppet characters that populate the picture. And thus does director Brian Henson carpet-bomb his father’s legacy. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

Share story

Movie review

It’s F-bombs away in “The Happytime Murders.”

The word leaps from the cloth lips of the Muppet-like puppet characters that populate this picture. Whoa! We never heard that on “Sesame Street.” And the makers of “Sesame Street” want you to know they had nothing to do with this movie.

That’s kind of the point. With everywhere a “@##%+**=!” “@##%+**=!” director Brian Henson carpet-bombs his father’s legacy. 

In “Happytime,” Jim Henson’s son seeks to take Muppetry to a whole new level. Too bad that level is the sewer. 

In addition to the cursing, scenes set in a grody porno parlor and grubby back alleys justify the hard R rating that “Happytime” wears as a badge of pride. A bizarre octopus-cow sexual encounter and an extended episode of puppet coitus make for moments the eyes can’t unsee and the mind can’t forget. Add in a re-creation of the most famous scene from “Basic Instinct,” and the raunch factor soars off the charts.

All the sleaze is in service of a buddy-cop story that is exactly like every buddy cop movie ever made. The only twist: Puppets!

Squabbling partners — one a disgraced ex-cop who’s now a low-rent private eye, and the other a potty-mouthed, perp-punching detective — reluctantly join forces to find the serial killer behind the titular murders. Melissa McCarthy, riffing on her role in “The Heat,” plays the human detective, Connie Edwards, while a blue-hued puppet, performed by longtime Henson Company puppeteer Bill Barretta, is the grumpy gumshoe, Phil Phillips. (Tip of the fedora to Philip Marlowe there.) He’s your stereotypical PI, from his world-weary voice-overs to the bottle of bourbon stashed in his desk drawer and his weakness for blond floozies.

Somebody is bumping off cast members of a once-popular puppet TV series “The Happytime Gang” with shotgun blasts, car bombs and dog attacks, and the disputatious duo take to the squalid streets of L.A. to track the evildoer down. 

Screenwriter Todd Berger gives the proceedings an overlay of social commentary by setting the tale in a Los Angeles where humans and puppets coexist uneasily. Puppets are treated as second-class citizens by the humans, and the racism in the relationship is blatant. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” handled this sort of thing better with its toon/human dynamic.

The picture purports to be a kind of noir comedy, with Connie depicted as a sugar junkie who snorts granular sugar through red licorice straws, and with snide one-liners leavening the sordidness. 

However, none of that can disguise what a joyless experience “Happytime” is.


★½ “The  Happytime  Murders,” with Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph, Dorien Davies, Elizabeth Banks. Directed by Brian Henson, from a screenplay by Todd Berger. 91 minutes. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material. Opens Aug. 24 at multiple theaters.