Genre: Crime Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.
Release Date: August 24th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Brian Henson Actors: Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Bill Barretta, Cynthy Wu
fter a career-ruining accident, former LAPD detective Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) now skulks around town as a PI, often shielding and aiding other puppets mistreated by humans. When Phil’s latest blackmail investigation for sultry Sandra White (Dorien Davies) takes him to a seedy adult shop, where four puppets are gunned down by a masked assailant, the fuzzy gumshoe is drawn into a larger conspiracy. Someone is murdering the cast members of the popular Happytime Gang television show, and Phil is determined to get to the bottom of it. When Philips’ ex-partner, human detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), is assigned to the case, the irascible sleuths must put aside their differences and work together to solve the mystery before more puppets (and people) meet their demise.
“Stupid puppet!” In a neo-noir voiceover, trying to impart a “Chinatown”-with-puppets vibe, Phil chronicles the persistent racism (or speciesism) against his people, the poaching of lucky puppet feet, and all sorts of social commentary that could easily translate to current events – were it not for the outrageous silliness of this fantasy world. It’s comparable to “Cars” or “Zootopia,” where animated inanimate objects (or anthropomorphized animals) populate human environments, requiring a modest amount of suspension of disbelief and the ability to ignore the wealth of conundrums presented by puppet/human coexistence (such as how exactly living puppets came to be). It gets particularly inexplicable when it’s revealed that Edwards once received a liver transplant from a puppet hospital.
There aren’t a lot of rules when it comes to this uncommon premise. Like “Team America: World Police,” “Sausage Party,” “Ted,” and “Meet the Feebles,” this latest exploration into R-rated playthings come to life presents dozens of scenarios that are immediately funny yet entirely nonsensical. Puppets can procreate, become alcoholics, grow pubic hair, and eat food. Strangely, they come in numerous forms, such as in exaggerated human shapes as well as all types of animals (which is also left to the imagination as to how different species of puppets could exist). They can also die, though it’s not in a terribly graphic way, which the film could have attempted. Instead, their body parts are filled with fluff, exploding in chunks of white cotton when shot by guns or torn apart by curious canines. This, of course, goes very much against the idea of a puppet liver somehow metabolizing carbohydrates or functioning in any way like a human organ.
Nevertheless, the world was foremost designed for comedy, not logic. Right from the start, the dialogue is fraught with expletives, which is humorous the first couple of times before becoming overused to the point of exhaustion. McCarthy’s lines are especially disappointing, as her interaction with the puppets could have been so much funnier if the language was used sparingly (as soon as the human protagonists show up, the novelty starts to wear off); bursts of profanity-laden insults would have packed bigger punches if she didn’t curse under her breath continuously. The vulgar puppet content would have stood out more, too. “Puppet Pussy Party,” “Felt Fetish Furburger,” and other such puppet porn titles just blend into the onslaught of obscenities. The use of drugs, sex scenes, and violence are more amusing, since the visuals of raunchy puppet behaviors are certainly rare on the big screen. And thanks to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (the film was directed by his son, Brian Henson), the puppet designs are not only name-brand, they’re creative and comical in appearance to go along with their riotous actions.
“Have you seen this puppet?” The murder/mystery plot is quite generic, but the filmmakers don’t seem overly concerned. In their view, crafting an original story is hardly necessary, since the focus is on perverting typical children’s characters with penis jokes and puppet prison rape japes. For the most part, they’re right; it’s difficult not to be diverted by the puppet-oriented grotesqueries on display, and to laugh at the extremeness of puppets engaging in human vices. There’s also something to be admired about the sheer number of artists who worked tirelessly to build an entire movie based on dirty puppet gags – witnessed in greater detail during the closing credits, which highlight a few bloopers and the puppeteers manning all the woolly personas.
– Mike Massie