The Happytime Murders somehow goes for the laziest possible jokes while also trying way too hard to be crude.
Director: Brian Henson
Summary: When the puppet cast of an '80s children's TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.
The Happytime Murders has been in development hell since 2008. That's a long time for a movie to finally make it to the big screen, and it is, unfortunately, probably the most interesting thing about the movie.
The Happytime Murders takes place in a world similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? only with puppets instead of toons. No one explains how we got here, and no one seems to care that much. The movie is essentially a noir as members of the Happytime Gang are getting picked off, and a former puppet cop and his human partner have to track them down.
That concept on its own could have been funny. The sheer weirdness that would come when you're looking at a noir with all of the tropes but with puppets would be inherently funny. The only moments The Happytime Murders work are when it's that movie. Instead it piles on a ton of gross-out, lowest-common-denominator humor that just isn't funny. A bunch of characters making crude sex jokes and saying "fuck" all the time isn't clever. At all. And it means that the movie falls completely flat when it comes to being a comedy. It isn't funny.
The marketing for this movie hasn't been great, with the trailers really playing up the gross-out comedy and the terrible jokes. The sad thing is there is the nugget of a good movie in here, which is probably the most frustrating part of all. If the writers had held back and trusted the audience of adults — this is a R-rated movie after all, so the target audience is adults, even if the humor is much more "15-year-old boy" — to get a little nuance, it would have worked.
They seem to be under the impression that the reason a movie like Deadpool worked was the gross-out humor and the swearing, but that wasn't it. You need interesting characters and clever humor for something like this to work, and this isn't it. This movie desperately wants to be offensive but also chooses the laziest jokes possible.
At the end of the movie, as it is common in comedies these days, we see some behind-the-scenes stuff including some of how they used the puppets. It's also the best part of the movie simply from a "so that's how they did that" angle and because the outtake jokes aren't trying as hard. It's another glimpse of the movie we could have had, which makes it frustrating above all else.
The Happytime Murders is a bad movie, but it's not even bad enough to get angry about. It's just a development hell project that finally got made and didn't live up to the premise, which is a shame.