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

Deadpool: Dark Romance/Action/Comedy Slices Superhero Tropes in Half

4.5 out of 5 stars (Nearly Perfect)

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

You are either going to love or hate Deadpool.  After years and years of being stuck in development hell (that place films go when they will likely never get made), the “Merc with a Mouth” (extreme emphasis on the “Mouth” part) is currently taking the world by storm for its pitch black humor, brutally gory action sequences, and a career-best performance by Ryan ReynoldsDeadpool is a comic book movie for people who are sick and tired of comic book movies and those simply searching for a bloody fun time.  My expectations were extremely high for this film, and it completely delivered, with nonstop wit, glorious action, and a surprising romance element that has nearly been left out of the marketing (which, in this case, was a good thing).  This movie will likely be regarded as a classic in the coming years for its unique take on the superhero movie.  That said, if you don’t have a stomach for bloody violence and endless profanity (however witty it is), then skip this film and go see Zoolander 2.  Not because it’s any good, but because it needs the money.

The story follows ex-special forces man Wade Wilson (Reynolds completely disappearing into the role within his first frame), a dude with a brutal sense of humor and a no-nonsense attitude. Wade spends his days doing one of two things: being a gun for hire, or making sweet love to prostitute girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin providing great work).  They are two crazy people in love with each other, and life couldn’t be better.

That life comes to a screeching halt when Wade discovers he has terminal cancer.  Though Vanessa remains optimistic, and his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) constantly offer support, Wade is concerned with the effect his death will have on Vanessa.  However, luck seemingly knocks when a mysterious man offers Wade a cure for his cancer, as well as new superhuman abilities.  He accepts, only to discover that the man behind the operation, Ajax (Ed Skrein providing a memorable villain) uses the patients as lab rats to see if they have mutant genes.  After a great deal of torture, Wade escapes within an inch of his life, blowing the place up in the process.  Despite his face now making Fred Kruger look attractive as a result of the torture, he declares vengeance on Ajax, as well as finding Vanessa again.

I cannot tell you more of the plot without spoiling it, but there are many unexpected turns here. Ryan Reynolds has never been better, utilizing every bit of his charm and likable demeanor to make us laugh when he’s splitting bad guys in half with his swords.  He also nails the more dramatic scenes (yes, there is a bit of drama here), showing layers I never knew he had.  Reynolds makes you feel Wade’s pain over his disease and understand his eventual decision to undergo treatment.  The film is a dark comedy overall, but the dramatic scenes give the movie unexpected weight and significance.  I want Wade and Vanessa to be together, and route for Wade to make that happen.

From an action standpoint, Deadpool is an absolute blast. Director Tim Miller uses the relatively small budget ($58 million) to the fullest, providing exquisite sequences that are perfectly timed, extremely well-shot, and very memorable.  The opening action sequence is one of the best I’ve seen in a comic book film, and the climax is very entertaining, with a refreshingly spare use of CGI.  I don’t know how many practical effects are here,, but almost all the action looks like it’s really happening right in front of you, not some cheap CG trick.  Also, Deadpool talks to the audience (known as breaking the fourth wall), but Wade Wilson does not.  This was a welcome surprise for me, because I didn’t want someone talking to me during the entire movie, I wanted to watch a fun movie.  If I wanted someone to talk to me, I would go to a restaurant, not a movie theater.  The fourth-wall breaks work because they unexpectedly and never go on too long.  It’s an interesting technique that I look forward to seeing again in the sequel (and yes, a sequel has been greenlit).

The villain in this movie is very intimidating. Ed Skrein is perfectly cast, providing a memorable villain who you love to hate, but still see his point of view.  While Marvel villains in the Avenger’s movies have mostly been one-note, this one is scary, soulless, and downright evil.  He is a perfect foil to Wade because he is as serious as Wade is snarky.

The writing in this film is amazingly witty, sometimes reminiscent of a Buffy episode, but with a ton of F-bombs.  The film’s balance of raunchy comedy and character drama is perfect, keeping a suitably darkly comedic tone throughout the proceedings.  The actors are also completely devoted to their characters, making me feel like I’m watching real people (in an exaggerated sense).  This is more than a darkly comic action film.  It has real drama, palpable romance, and relatable characters that you actively care about.  That is very rare for an action film nowadays, and I was very happy to see it here.

The romance in this movie is extremely well-done.  As I said above, I want Wade and Vanessa to be together and feel Wade’s sadness and fear of rejection after his face is altered.  All men want to be loved by someone, and their biggest fear afterwards is losing it.  This is the best romance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie thus far, beating out the relationship between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.

Deadpool is violent, extremely profane, and will not please everyone. If you don’t like the F-word or over-the-top violence then go elsewhere (help support the financially floundering Zoolander 2, maybe).  If you want a well-written, witty raunch-fest with bloody good action and a sweet romance plot, then Deadpool will be the perfect sword to slice with.

(Rightly) Rated R for Strong Violence and Language Throughout, Sexual Content, and (very) Graphic Nudity (I hope you think Ryan Reynolds is attractive, because you see him in full at various points throughout the film. I guess I can cross that off my cinematic bucket list).

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Jennifer's Body poster
Poster from https://www.movieposter.com

In 2009, the screenwriter for Juno (Diablo Cody) wrote another teen film, this being the horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body.  Again, I was too young to see it, but I loved the idea.  The ads wanted you to know that this was from the writer of Juno, a fact that I ignored because it didn’t matter to me at that time.  Jennifer’s Body is a decent teen flick, but doesn’t fully succeed because it’s too afraid to go all out on its gleefully dark/comic premise.

The story follows Needy (Amanda Seyfried), a nerdy mousy teen who has been BFF’s with Jennifer (Megan Fox) since childhood (“Sandbox love never dies”, as she puts it). Despite Jennifer being the equivalent of Kim Kardashian, she and Needy’s friendship powers on, much to the questioning of Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).  He tells her that Jennifer controls her life, but Needy doesn’t really see it that way.  Oh, the naivety of blonde girls in movies will never cease.

Jen coaxes Needy to skip a date with Chip so they can go to a rock concert for new indie band Low Shoulder.  Needy notices they’re creeps, but Jen seems very fascinated with them.  Before Needy can persuade her friend that these guys give her the heebee jeebees, the bar at which they’re playing burns down, killing several people.  The girls, along with the band, escape the blaze, but a shocked Jennifer gets in the unmarked, suspicious-looking van with the band members, who then drive off.  If that weren’t suspicious enough, the next time Needy sees her friend, Jen vomits black CGI ooze on the carpet before just walking away.  The next day, Jennifer appears at school as if nothing happened, thus disturbing Needy.  Needy must discover what’s wrong with her friend, who seems to have developed a more literal “taste” for men, before it’s too late.

This movie does a few things right. First, it seems like a realistic enough high school, with kids who look 18 or 19 instead of 30, something that is exceedingly common in movies about “teenagers”.  Second, the dialogue is fun and snappy most of the time, save for a few Juno-esque moments (where the characters suddenly give small soliloquys out of nowhere) that took me out of the movie for brief moments.  Fox and Seyfried work well off of each other, creating a believable friendship despite the script rushing through that aspect in the opening minutes.  This movie proves that good chemistry between actors can overcome a medium-level script.  I also cared about the other characters, a reaction that I can’t get from many modern horror flicks.  The special effects are also decent, though they are starting to show their age.  Finally, though not all of the comedy works, the stuff that does hit is funny.

Unfortunately, the horror element doesn’t work very well here. This movie should have been an absolute gorefest, but instead cuts away from the scary actions happening, only allowing us to see the bloody aftermath of the attacks.  This is a problem because the scary scenes have good buildup, but cut away right when the good stuff is about to happen (Think Godzilla 2014).  The difference is that Godzilla was more of a human movie, but this is supposed to be a supernatural horror film.  Supernatural horror films need gore, and this just doesn’t deliver enough.  The other issue I have is the rock soundtrack.  I like rock, but most of the songs chosen seem out of place, save for the awesome instrumental during the climax scene.  It would be like if Radioactive played in a scene from Ratatouille: It’s a good song, but it wouldn’t go with the film.  Musically, the instrumentals work wonders, something that many modern horror films get right.

I think the filmmakers were too afraid to go all out on this movie: It could have been something like Scream, a film which combines scares and dark comedy expertly.  I really wish this movie could be better than it is.  Watching it, I was thinking what I would have done to improve the movie.  I would have chosen different songs and increased the gore a little bit.  I mentioned that some of the comedy doesn’t work, mainly the soliloquys.  I swear, more than once, the girls will go from talking like regular teenagers to randomly spewing out dialogue that sounds like something Juno would have said.  Very few people can make teenagers consistently witty and make seem normal, and Cody isn’t one of them.  I suggest that she watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the new Doctor Who series.  Those were able to consistently blend smart and witty dialogue with horror elements very well, one of many reasons why I love them both.

Rated R for Sexuality, Bloody Violence, Language, and Brief Drug Use