The fifty something son of Muppets creator Jim Henson, Brian Henson may have thought everybody would laugh hysterically at the sight of his father’s “Sesame Street” Muppets wallowing in puppet sex, killing other puppets, and spewing R-rated “Scarface” obscenities.  Indeed, the production company behind “Sesame Street” sued STX Films for an early poster displaying the tagline: “No Sesame, All Street.” Mind you, none of the actual “Sesame Street” Muppet characters are ridiculed in Henson’s farce.  Nevertheless, The Sesame Workshop argued such advertising “deliberately confuses consumers into mistakenly believing that Sesame is associated with, has allowed, or has even endorsed or produced the movie and tarnishes Sesame’s brand.”  Judge Vernon Broderick threw the case out.  Although they lost the lawsuit, The Sesame Workshop must be elated that Henson’ abominable police procedural comedy “The Happytime Murders” (* OUT OF ****) bombed during its first week in release.  Forging a make-believe world where “meat sacks” and “felties” bump into each other, this lame laffer earned only a quarter of its $40-million budget. Puppets refer to humans as “meat sacks,” while humans call puppets “felties.” Comparisons between “The Happy time Murders” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988), where cartoon characters co-existed with humans are inevitable.  Despite its top-notch CGI of Muppets ‘behaving badly’ and its celebrity cast, featuring Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, and Elizabeth Banks, this predictable, half-baked hokum should have been called “The Crappytime Murders.”  Basically, neither Henson nor scenarists Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson have conjured up enough sidesplitting jokes to weather its lowest-common-denominator 91 minutes.  Moreover, the jokes are neither shamelessly nor hilariously memorable.  If you’ve seen the trailer where puppets perform “Basic Instinct” sex and the guy squirts ‘silly-string’ semen, you’ve seen the most provocative scene.  Another scene with a Dominatrix Dalmatian whipping a semi-nude, tied-down fireman while yelping, “I’m gonna piss on you like a fire hydrant” is more idiotic than erotic.

This whodunit takes place in the seedy underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles.  Mankind has marginalized puppets as second-class citizens, and the filmmakers cannot resist exposing the racism with which humans belittle puppets. The action concerns the puppets who starred in “The Happytime Gang,” a popular 1990’s kiddie show. Humans embraced this groundbreaking sit-com about puppets, and puppets attracted greater sympathy from humans.  Decades afterward, the lucrative syndication rights for the show are up for grabs.  Now, a serial slayer is stalking and knocking-off the seven puppet cast members one-by-one.  Lieutenant Banning of the LAPD (Leslie David Baker of “Elizabethtown”) assigns former police detective Phil Phillips (long-time Muppeteer vet Bill Barretta) to serve as a consultant for his former partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy of “Identity Thief”), to solve these homicides.  Traces of bad blood linger between Phil and Connie.  For the record, Phil is a sky-blue Muppet with black hair who resembles former “Late Late Show” talk host Tom Synder, and he doesn’t mind kicking the crap out of anybody.  Phil was a rising star in the LAPD, until a pistol-packing puppet took Connie hostage in a stand-off.  Phil fired at the perpetrator, but his bullet ricocheted and killed an innocent bystander.  Connie caught a slug in the liver when she disarmed her truculent captor.  Desperately, Phil rushed her to the nearest medical facility, and it turned out to be a puppet hospital.  Although the puppet doctor refused to operate on a human, Phil waved the muzzle of his service revolver under his nose.  Since acquiring a felt liver, Connie contends with many of the afflictions puppets suffer on a daily basis. Puppets crave sugar as if it were cocaine, and Connie has dozens of Maple Syrup bottles chilling in her fridge.

Now, Phil ekes out a living as a private investigator. One day, switch-hitting, nympho puppet Sandra White (Dorien Davies) slinks into his office.  She hires Phil to thwart blackmailers demanding $350-thousand from her.  The first place Phil heads is a smut shop.  He is trying to trace the cut-out letters in the blackmail note to a porno magazine.  Meantime, a masked gunman enters the store, kills the owner and his two employees, who were staging a porno about an octopus milking a slutty dairy cow with his tentacles.  The gunman blows their felt heads off with a shotgun.  BLAM!  BLAM!  During this blazing mayhem, Phil occupied himself in the smut owner’s office, scrutinizing a list of suspects who might have clipped letters from the porno magazine for Sandra’s blackmail message.  Nevertheless, the LAPD treat Phil as ‘a person of interest’ despite his story that he heard nothing in the owner’s office.  Now, Phil is on the lam, and Connie is struggling to protect him, while they ferret out clues to the identities of the killers.

Comparably, “The Happytime Murders” isn’t nearly as rude, crude, and offensive as Peter Jackson’s “Meet the Feebles” (1989), Trey Parker’s “Team America: World Police” (2004), and Seth MacFarlane’s two “Ted” comedies with Mark Walhberg.  Mind you, the prospect of a “Happytime Murders” sequel is probably as infinitesimal as “Ted 3.”  Sadly, Henson and his writers provide a far from adequate history about the origins of this strange new world where puppets talk.  Principally, when did the Muppets become sentient?  Sure, these questions may not bother you, but some explanation should have been offered.  We watch puppets play cards, orchestrate drive-by shootings, and generally act like criminals.  Puppet die violently in this murder-riddled melodrama. Bullets blow the stuffing out of these puppets when dogs aren’t mistaking them for chew toys. The puppet work is probably some of the best.  Publicity material for “The Happytime Murders” reveals that Henson and company fashioned about 125 Muppet-like puppets for it.  Indeed, the interaction between the actors and the puppets looks appropriately goofy.  While she is cast as the top-billed detective, Melissa McCarthy plays second banana to Phil. Maya Rudolph steals every scene as Phil’s radiant secretary ‘Bubbles’ who can pick locks. Neither trailblazing nor sharp-edged enough as a satire, “The Happytime Murders” scrapes the bottom of the barrel with little to show for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.