I found much better adult jokes in ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ than here.
Who doesn’t love Jim Henson’s work? Whether it is Sesame Street or the Muppet franchise, the Muppets’ sense of humor managed to be amusing to both adults and kids. However, it seems as if someone at the Jim Henson Company decided that what the world needed right now was a puppet movie exclusively for adults. How could that possibly go wrong?
In a world where puppets and humans co-exist, disgraced puppet detective Phil Phillips is working as a private investigator in Chinatown. (Why yes, this movie was also produced by the? Huayi Brothers!) After being visited by his former superior, Philips begrudgingly accepts a murder case where actors on the puppet-run show ‘The Happytime Gang’ are being murdered one by one, including his own brother. He is paired up with human detective and former partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). Despite their obvious dislike for one another, they work together to solve this murder case, all while coming across some colorful, yet repulsive characters along the way.
I knew that I was in trouble during the first five minutes when the puppet characters kept throwing around swear words and phallic jokes, and I did not count one laugh from the audience. After that, the story kicked in, the two cops teamed up, and more dirty jokes came (one quite literally), and yet still no laughs. At that point, it was obvious that this was the style of humor the film would stick with, and this humor doesn’t work. While the trailers for this film weren’t great, per say, they suggested a much raunchier and funnier film. Sadly, though, the film itself did not have much to offer, and gradually became, for me, one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
In terms of raunchiness, the film was surprisingly lacking in anything that shocking. One scene in the trailer where Phil is having his way with a client in his office is played exactly as it is in the trailer, with nothing new added to it, at least in terms of laughs. Team America World Police had a much more raunchier, and funnier sex scene involving puppets, thank you. The raunchiest this film gets is a scene involving a cow, an octopus, and a video camera (you can put the pieces together). Other than that, all the adult content the film has to offer is swearing, jokes involving drugs and sex, and stuffing-filled puppet heads being blown off. Maybe at 10 years old, I would have found this funny, but as an adult, I was mostly bored. When the film is this out-of-gas about twenty minutes in, it might as well just give up.
While we’re on the subject, the constant use of the word “puppet” in the film seemed to be a bit odd. After a while, I started to notice that this movie suffers from the same problems that last year’s Netflix blockbuster Bright did: trying and failing to build a world where fantasy and reality co-exist, and the fantasy element suffers from discrimination. This tactic did not work for orcs in Bright, and it certainly does not work for the puppets in Happytime Murders, especially when previous films involving Muppets did not need humans addressing the fact that Muppets were Muppets. In addition, Bright acted as a much better buddy-cop movie than Happytime Murders, mainly because of Joel Edgerton’s performance in the former. While I do love Melissa McCarthy as an actress, she has little to work with here and mainly relies on the shtick she used in her lesser efforts such as Tammy and The Boss–and it wears out its welcome quickly.
The only solid laughs I could count were the few moments of invention within the environment the filmmakers created. For example, in one puppet murder a few puppies were released on the puppets’ property, and they use him as a chew toy, tearing him to shreds. Another is the puppets’ use of cocaine and maple syrup as their version of cocaine and whiskey, but that joke gets worn out relatively quickly. A moment where a pit bull puppet barks at one of his girls got the loudest laugh from my audience. Finally, there is a humorous visual gag about two inbred children produced by “kissing cousins.” Other than those moments, not much else.
Another disappointing aspect was the lack of celebrity cameos, which, as I recall, was one of the charms of any Muppet-related show or movie. The only faces of merit we are treated to are Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Leslie Baker from The Office, and McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone (to be fair, his one line in the film is humorous.) I know this isn’t directly a Muppets film, but because the film is lacking in laughs, a few more celebrity cameos might have helped add some levity. I know that Brian Henson is a capable director, since he directed Muppet Treasure Island, one of my personal favorite Muppet movies. Maybe the fact that he has not directed any other feature films since then is why the direction in this film feels so flat. When the end credits show the behind-the-scenes reel set to the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy,” it is obvious that the filmmakers have not caught up with the times.
In the end, The Happytime Murders will make you re-evaluate why you even bother going to the movies these days. Frank Oz criticized the 2011 Muppets movie, stating that he felt that the Muppets have lost their edge. I would be sad if this film was the Henson Company’s way of trying to compensate. The Happytime Murders’ only saving grace is that at 90 minutes, it is mercifully short. If you want a much raunchier comedy film that pushes the envelope, I would just stick with Sausage Party, or if you want one with puppets, watch Chappelle Show’s Kneehigh Park sketch. Either of those is funnier than this!