Happytime Murders: Mismarketed Puppet Film a Decent Crime Drama, With Raunch

3 out of 5 stars (Average)

Happytime Murders poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

The Hapytime Murders is by far the most heavily mismarketed film of 2018.  Advertised as a wild and raunchy comedy, the film is actually a decent crime drama with raunchy humor that showcases that puppets can do far more in movies than sing to your kids.  However, people who want a unique (if flawed) crime drama with some ribald humor will likely be impressed at the immaculate puppetry on display here, along with a solid human cast that plays surprisingly well off of their stuffed cast members.  The Happytime Murders is a good step in legitimizing puppetry as adult entertainment, despite a few bad jokes and some questionable script decisions.  It’s not as good as it could be, but my God if it couldn’t be a lot worse.

We follow ex-cop-turned-private-eye Phil Phillips (controlled and voiced by Bill Barretta), a puppet living in a world where humans coexist with the furry creatures, albeit with intense racial prejudice against them.  Phil witnesses the murder of a puppet cast member of The Happytime Gang, a Bear-in-the-Big-Blue-House-esque TV show, and is called to work with human ex-partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy largely playing it straight) to catch the killer.  However, when more members of the show appear stuffy side up, they must figure out who wants them all dead before it’s too late.

The Happytime Murders is a flawed movie more for its marketing than the actual film.  Why the studio decided to showcase nearly all the raunchy stuff (including the film’s best comedic set piece), rather than show its true colors is beyond me.  Had I not been warned by a good friend it wasn’t a wild comedy, this would be a very different review.  Luckily, I did, and was treated to one of the more entertaining (if very niche) cop pictures I’ve seen recently.  I like seeing McCarthy play second fiddle to someone in a more restrained role, and she works decently off of the creature.  To that end, the puppeteers have outdone themselves, creating some enjoyably violent sequences and showing their creations do things you never thought you’d see a puppet do (or want to see, for some).

Therein lies the problem: The Happytime Murders is only going to satisfy a very niche audience: those who enjoy crime dramas, raunchy humor, and puppetry, but don’t mind the furry guys showing their raunchy side.  My theater consisted of myself and two older couples, and they laughed about 4 times.  I laughed at most of the humor, but some of it just didn’t land.  Melissa McCarthy fans may also feel she is underused comedically (once again, the marketing has wrongfully placed her in the spotlight), and I understand that.  The film also tries to have a commentary on racism with the mistreatment of the puppets, but we aren’t told how the world got here and so it just comes off as well-intentioned, yet ineffective.

The Happytime Murders is a solid crime drama with bursts of raunchy humor that will have trouble finding an audience due to abhorrent mismarketing and expectations of puppetry.  The human cast (also featuring Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, and a very funny Maya Rudolph) are game for the material, which treats itself just seriously enough to be taken as legitimate crime drama, but not so much that the raunchy humor feels misplaced.  Would I recommend it to everyone?  Definitely not.  There are things I will never be able to unsee here.  However, if you want a unique puppet film that doesn’t give a fluff about young kids, then I recommend The Happytime Murders.  See it.

Rated R for Strong Crude And Sexual Content And Language Throughout, And Some Drug Material

Bosch Season 4: Amazon’s Dark Crime Drama Explores Topical Themes, but is Anticlimactic

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Bosch Season 4 poster
Image from https://www.reddit.com

I entered Bosch’s 4th season totally cold.  While TV crime dramas don’t usually interest me, this season of Bosch enthralled with its grounded narrative, flawed characters, and intelligent writing.  I spent the first 9 episodes on the edge of my couch, but was sadly let down by an underwhelming finale that, while emotionally satisfying, lacked the urgency of what came before.  Bosch’s 4th season is thrilling, atmospheric, and refreshingly unpredictable in an overcrowded landscape of generic crime shows.

This season sees Det. Harry Bosch (an exceptional Titus Welliver) oversee a task force to solve the murder of an important civil rights lawyer.  As this is LA on television in 2018, the African-American community instantly believes a cop is to blame and forms a Black Lives Matter-esque group that incites further tension between the LAPD and the citizens it is sworn to protect.  Oh yeah, Bosch also has some family drama to tangle with.  Because who wouldn’t want to focus on Bosch’s angst-ridden teenage daughter (An acceptable Madison Lintz) when there’s a murder case to be solved?

This show almost strikes gold.  Rather than politicize its theme, Bosch takes the time to intelligently explore both sides of the racial argument rather than oversimplify it.  The reliance on complex characters and storytelling over bombastic violence was a breath of fresh air.  Unfortunately, the season finale leaves all of that interesting commentary on the back burner, drowning in set up for next year and leaving those big questions hanging.  I was ready to give this 4 out of 5 stars, but the bungled ending forced me to lower my score.

Despite an underwhelming ending, I would still highly recommend Bosch for people who want a different kind of crime drama.  The entire cast is brilliant, the writing smart, and the overall narrative thrilling.  Stream it on Amazon Prime.