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.

“Neighbors 2”: Silly Sequel Overly Reliant on Raunchy Gags

2 out of 5 stars (Some good moments, but is overall bad)

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising poster
Image from http://screencrush.com/

In the summer of 2014, the Seth Rogen comedy Neighbors hit the screens and became an unexpected blockbuster.  The film was about a pair of new parents (Rogen and the foxy Rose Byrne) having to deal with the hi jinks of a wild fraternity lead by Zac Efron.  The film combined stupidity with mild pathos about growing up and accepting your place in life, while also possessing a plethora of raunchy gags and jabs at “old people” (a highlight involving a party poster near the end).  While not a classic, the movie was stupid raunchy fun that is decently memorable thanks to its fun script and enjoyable performances, if you like raunchy comedies.

The same cannot be said for its follow-up (subtitled “Sorority Rising”). Once again, Rogen and Byrne must deal with college kids messing up the house next door, but with a ton of estrogen thrown into the mix and an attempted feminist angle that could have succeeded with some script edits.  For people seeking a simple raunchfest, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising will be a fountain of youth.  Unfortunately, for those who know Rogen can insert deeper material into his comedies (or those who don’t want to hear the “F” word every 2 minutes), the film will be a huge letdown.

The film again follows Mac and Kelly Radnor, this time as they are looking to move out of their house with 3-year-old Stella and another baby on the way. With the house chosen and money paid, they only thing standing in their way is a 30-day escrow period in which they have to keep the house clean for buyer inspection.

Unfortunately, that is precisely when an irrepressible college girl named Shelby (a decently enjoyable Chloe Grace Moretz) decides to use the house next door as a place to get her party on, as sororities are not allowed to do so at their own houses. Frantic, the Radnors enlist the help of ex-enemy Teddy (A frequently shirtless Zac Efron) to get the girls out fast.

While the original Neighbors was not Rogen’s finest hour, it still provided enough laughs for me to forgive its shortcomings.  In this installment, the leads act like the very people they want to get rid of, leaving us with an overabundance of hit-and-miss raunchy jokes, some of which work (like a scene in which the girls text to make a decision), and others don’t (The Radnors call Shelby’s father for help at one point, and he wusses  out immediately).  That being said, one sequence at a tailgate party had me laughing hysterically, as it had the spirit and tone of the original film.  Sadly, this level of buffoonery was never reached again, leaving me bored for the rest of the proceedings.

The leads’ chemistry is good, but not nearly as fun to watch this time. As well, they aren’t given very much to do, leading to many scenes of time-stretching improvisation.  Moretz is clearly enjoying her role, but the character is not as enjoyable as Teddy was.  I completely understand Shelby’s motives (that she just wants to party without being groped), but the character isn’t interesting beyond that.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising will satisfy those looking to completely turn their brain off and hear raunchy gags, but people who want some intelligence (or wit) with their humor, they should search by the multiplex down the road.

Rated R for Crude Sexual Content, Brief Graphic Nudity, Language Throughout, Drug Use, and Teen Partying (which is strange, as I thought they were all College girls)