Arts

The Happytime Murders: Disaster of puppets

Melissa McCarthy's human detective and her puppet counterpart clash in the line of duty in madcap comedy The Happytime Murders

Melissa McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards and Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta) in The Happytime Murders
Damon Smith

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (15, 91 mins) Comedy/Thriller/Romance.

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker and the handiwork and voices of Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Victor Yerrid, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey, Colleen Smith, Ted Michael.

Director: Brian Henson.

Rating: 2 stars

IN 2003, Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q imagined an alternate reality in which humans and puppets co-exist and two hand-operated felt characters engage in vigorous on-stage coitus while a tenant of the building sings You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love).

The Happytime Murders arrives woefully late to the same raucous, expletive-laden party without the uproarious laughter.

Directed by Brian Henson, whose father Jim created The Muppets, this filthy-minded whodunnit dangles loosely on a couple of outlandish sex scenes and a homage to Basic Instinct that ultimately serves a narrative purpose.

At one of the film's initial crime scenes, a private investigator casts a beady eye over a ransom note and is drawn to a curlicued capital letter that appears to have been snipped from the pages of an adult magazine.

"This mystery was brought to you by the letter P," he growls in a forlorn attempt to prick our nostalgia for Sesame Street.

The gumshoe is correct: Henson's film is puerile, pitiful, potty-mouthed, predictable, preposterous and politically incorrect to the point of tedium.

Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta) is a disgraced former cop in present-day Los Angeles who accepts cases on behalf of fellow puppets, who are treated as second-class citizens because they are felt rather than flesh and bone.

"It ain't a crime to be warm and fuzzy. It might as well be," laments Phil in voiceover.

When his older brother Larry (Victor Yerrid), who starred in the popular 1980s TV show The Happytime Gang, is targeted by a psychopath, Phil reunites with his former partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) from the LAPD's robbery-homicide division to crack the case.

"Nobody turns my brother into a dog toy and gets away with it!" rages Phil.

His old flame Jenny (Elizabeth Banks) is in the killer's sights along with co-stars Goofer (Drew Massey), Lyle (Kevin Clash) and the twins Cara (Colleen Smith) and Ezra (Ted Michael).

Phil's adoring secretary Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) supports her boss as he clashes with Lieutenant Banning (Leslie David Baker) and snarky FBI agent Campbell (Joel McHale).

Contrary to the title, The Happytime Murders inspires little joy.

There is fleeting amusement to be milked from the orgasmic on-screen coupling of an octopus and a cow and it's difficult to stifle a snigger when Phil 'takes a meeting' with a pretty client (Dorien Davies) and covers the walls of his office in glistening trails of white silly string to cries of mutual pleasure.

However, scriptwriter Todd Berger repeatedly shoots blanks when McCarthy's cop trades barbs with her handmade co-stars, and the copious drug-taking – puppets get high on sugar – is a downer.

The human cast sift through the wreckage in search of decent one-liners but unearth nothing.

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