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

Show Dogs: Overly Edgy Kid Flick Has Little for Adults

1.5 out of 5 stars (one of the worst films I’ve seen this year)

Show Dogs poster
Image from https://www.traileraddict.com/

Show Dogs is one of the strangest kid films I’ve ever seen.  Not since Kangaroo Jack has a movie been so confused about who its audience is, containing jokes about inbreeding, disassociation, and other things you don’t want to explain to your child.  Add a terrible script with an awkwardly miscast Will Arnett as the human lead, and you have a recipe for a film that will go down as one of the most bizarrely mishandled talking dog movies in history.

The paper-thin plot follows somehow ownerless New York cop canine Max (voiced by a dedicated Ludacris) who is partnered with FBI Agent Frank (An embarrassed-looking Arnett) to help find a panda smuggler at a dog show.  Unfortunately, Max couldn’t give a lick about dog shows, and must enlist the help of an ex-best-in-show dog Philippe (voiced by an unrecognizable Stanley Tucci). Hilarity supposedly ensues as Max tries to hunt down the smugglers and learn to respect the dog show life, while Frank somewhat hits it off with another dog handler (Natasha Lyonne).

This should not be in a theater.  It stinks of multiple writers who had no idea who it was aimed at. One scene in particular has invoked parental disdain in which Max enters a dissociative dream after being told to go to his “zen place” when the judges inspect his private parts for the competition.  Luckily, the backlash is seeing the scene removed from theatrical release this weekend, but I think there are other out-of-place jokes here given the type of film it is.

Show Dogs is an awkward mess whose needless adult jokes make it inappropriate for the small children who will otherwise enjoy it.  I hope everyone was paid well for this; I only paid with my time.

Rated PG For Suggestive And Rude Humor (A ton of it), Language (Damn and BS are used once), And Some Action (A brief scuffle at the end).  Leave this dog in timeout.

Dirty Grandpa”: Raunchy Road Comedy A Rancid Misfire, Despite Good Chemistry Between Leads

0 out of 5 stars

Dirty Grandpa poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

Dirty Grandpa represents the end of an era. This era should have ended about 10 years ago, but, like Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Twinkies, and teen romance adaptations, it somehow survived based on name value and pure curiosity.  I am sadly referring to the era known as Robert De Niro’s career.

De Niro’s career as of late has been comprised of mediocre comedies that don’t allow him to use his acting talent. I understand he’s been around for a long time, and thus would want to take some “fluff” roles, but he has looked either bored or embarrassed to be a part of them (See The Big Wedding and The Family for proof).  I didn’t mind him doing these, as none of them looked interesting enough to warrant my attention.  Unfortunately, the trailer for Dirty Grandpa caught my eye with its fun enough-sounding premise and cast.  I knew the film would be bad (both when the release date was moved from August to January, as well as the damning critical reaction), but I didn’t care.  All I wanted was a dumb raunch-fest with a few actors I liked.  While the movie definitely delivers on the raunchiness, the plot is dumb and the jokes are overly sophomoric.  The one positive element of this is the chemistry between Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, but it isn’t nearly enough to save this mess.

The film follows Jason Kelly (Efron giving the most forgettable performance of his career), an up-and-coming lawyer at his father’s firm. He is currently attending the funeral of his grandmother, with Grandpa Dick (De Niro) appropriately out of sorts.  To add to this, Jason is set to be married to his fiancé (Julianna Hough) within a week.  This film has one of the weakest and most rushed openings I’ve ever seen.  Starting a raucous comedy at a funeral was a terrible idea, as it sets the wrong mood, and we don’t get to know Jason or his relationship with Dick before the plot starts.  Sign 1 that the film is bad.

Anyway, Dick wants Jason to drive him to Daytona Beach so that he can continue the tradition held by him and his wife. Jason agrees, not knowing that doing so will put him on a path with drug dealers (Jason Mantzoukas), horny college girls (31-year-old Aubrey Plaza doing what she can), and an old high school friend (Zoey Deutch) who, through the magic of film logic, makes him doubt how much he loves his fiancé.

This movie is not terrible because it doesn’t have any laughs. In fact, I laughed a number of times in the film.  This was not due to good writing, but De Niro’s delivery.  He is obviously dedicated to this role, and, while I can see he’s having a blast, it is honestly painful to watch and hear him say such crass dialogue.  Zac Efron plays the straight man here, and while he has decent chemistry with De Niro, he completely fails at selling his character.  The very first thing we see Jason do is have a conversation with other lawyers from the firm, all of whom are adults.  I understand that the character is much younger than his colleagues, but Efron looks laughably out of place.  In an attempt to help this problem, several scenes are dedicated to Jason describing the kinds of accounts he deals with, but I never saw the character: I saw Zac Efron.  His reactions to Dick’s antics are funny enough, but the character is poorly written.  Aubrey Plaza is an honest bright spot in the film, but her dialogue is so awful that it takes away from her normal likability.

The movie’s brand of “humor” is completely shock-based. Shock humor is fine when used in small doses, but loses its effect after repeated exposure.  Hearing Robert De Niro say how he wants to, well, do it a lot, is funny at first, but it becomes grating after a certain point.  It’s not the actor’s fault, but the script.  The plot is non-existent, purely whisking Jason and Dick from one “comic” pratfall to another.  The jokes that work are played too long, and there are only a handful of honestly funny lines.  I like raunchy humor that seems well-written, natural, and witty.  Most of Seth Rogen’s films are like this, thus his comic career flourishes.  This movie was made for individuals who want to hear profanity for the sake of hearing profanity, and nothing else, something that the studio should have noticed.

Lastly, the editing of the movie lead me to have sensory overload. Too many scenes take place in loud clubs with strobe lights, leading to a nullifying effect.  I know it’s a “wild comedy”, but you can have party sequences that don’t make the audience sick (see my review of Sisters for an example of this).  I felt sick for the rest of the day after seeing this film, and that rarely happens.  I also felt the need to take a shower afterwards, as the film literally made me feel unclean.  I like wild comedies if they are done right (Old School and The Wolf of Wall Street are examples, in my opinion), with the characters being the main focus.  With all that, the ending scene of the movie (Which the trailer spoiled because why not) is one of the worst, most disgusting endings I have ever seen to a film.  I will not tell it here, but just know it is abhorrently disturbing.

Dirty Grandpa is the downfall of a titan, the straw that will hopefully break the camel’s back of Robert De Niro’s career. Hopefully, his next project will be one that allows us to remember why we used to love him, but I refuse to see any more of his comedies.  As for Zac Efron, he is young enough to recover, but he cannot afford another disaster like this.  Hopefully Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising will give him that chance.

Rated R for Crude Sexual Content Throughout, Graphic Nudity, Language, and Drug Content

Party Hard With These “Neighbors”

3 out of 5 stars (average)

Neighbors poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

Seth Rogen and Zac Efron are two very unique actors. Rogen is a chubby, profane guy known for his raunchy humor, and Efron is a muscular chick magnet with a heart of gold.  Whoever put these two together should be commended for their fine work, for Neighbors utilizes both of their comedic strengths in a way I never thought possible.

The film centers on Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radnor (Rose Byrne), parents to baby Stella. While they enjoy raising their daughter, the sacrifices of that position are sometimes annoying (they should probably write a parenting book on coping with the loss of certain freedoms after childbirth).  Other than those issues that all new parents must deal with, their lives couldn’t be happier.

Unfortunately, their simple, happy life is severely overturned when a fraternity moves next door. The fraternity president, Teddy (Zac Efron trying out a different kind of role) assures them that everything will be okay; just call him instead of the cops if the roof is raised too high.  When things get too far out of control, Mac and Kelly engage in a battle royal with the frat house in order to get their lives back.

I was excited when I saw the trailer for this movie because it had a fantastic premise and two perfectly opposite actors to play the leads. On most levels, Neighbors succeeds: It’s funny, the actors are well-chosen, and the message is applicable to a wide audience.  The only problem is the film’s occasional use of dialogue that sounds like the actors were ad-libbing it and the director, Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) just let them do whatever they wanted.  Though it’s only present in a few scenes, it slows the movie down noticeably in what is otherwise a hilarious battle of the boneheads.

Seth Rogen, as always, is funny, and Rose Byrne shows she can hold her own against him and Efron. Dave Franco (Now You See Me) does a good job as the Vice President of the frat, showing that his brother James isn’t the only one with acting skills, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse is, well, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  Rather he be McLoven, Red Mist, or Scoonie in this film, he will always be the king of the awkwardly hilarious character.  The real star of the movie is Efron, who looks like he’s having a blast playing the party boy.  I am interested to see how Efron’s career progresses throughout the next few years: he’s gone from teen heartthrob to frat president in a matter of only eight years.  Here’s hoping he continues to entertain us.

If you are not a fan of raunchy movies, then do not see this one. Seth Rogen movies generally go in this category, and this one is no exception.  However, if you like Seth Rogen movies, then you will like this one too.  Efron’s presence should also draw a larger female audience, so sit back, relax, and love these Neighbors

Rated R for Pervasive language, Strong Crude and Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, and Drug Use Throughout.