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“The Happytime Murders” is a big-time flop

With big comedy names like Elizabeth Banks and Maya Rudolph, the storytelling prowess of director Brian Henson, and starring the queen of comedy herself, Melissa McCarthy, “The Happytime Murders” is a blockbuster on paper. All that potential is wasted, however, on the continually raunchy, hauntingly strange, rarely funny 90-minute nightmare.

When cast members from a 90’s puppet show, “The Happytime Gang,” begin to turn up dead, puppet and former LAPD cop-turned-private-detective Phil Phillips teams up with ex-partner Detective Connie Edwards, played by Melissa McCarthy, to work the case.  The detectives discover that the murders are likely a grab for the royalty money from an upcoming syndication deal for the former television stars, and what follows is a dive into the secret world of puppets – a sex and drug-filled den of foul language and nudity for its own sake.

This black comedy tries so hard to shed the family-friendly reputation of The Jim Henson Company’s puppets that it sabotages its own fanbase. At once too vulgar for adolescents and too childish in its sexual reveling for adults, one wonders just who this film is supposed to be for. In the vein of second-rate slasher films that use shock value to fill plot holes, the movie sacrifices story and comedy both for cheap thrills.

The film’s premise – a world of shaky human and puppet coexistence, in which puppets are the shunned minority – runs parallel to America’s struggles with race relations in the current political climate.  The film squanders its opportunity for a unifying message, however, by undermining its own underdogs, portraying them as drug-addled sex fiends. The racial allegory is a lazy attempt at being politically correct without engaging in meaningful dialogue, using the puppets’ misfortunes primarily for laughs – in theory, at least.

Even the rare moviegoer who delights in comedy that is as trite as it is self-congratulatory, confusing vulgarity with substance and relying entirely on the perversion of youthful emblems for humor, would be hard-pressed to find a film as disappointing as “The Happytime Murders.”

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