FRIDAY, AUGUST 24, 2018 -- Director Brian Henson is the late master puppeteer Jim Henson's son. After his dad died, the first film he produced and directed was "The Muppet Christmas Carol" in 1992. He has since produced of directed over 45 films, most of which were not Muppet projects.


The Henson Family sold the rights to the Muppets to Disney (who else?) many years ago and their other productions changed hands before being returned to them a few years ago. But those productions kept withe family-friendly qualities like the Muppets.I guess somewhere along the line Brian thought it might be a good idea to make a more adult oriented puppet film, which is why he developed Henson Alternative Productions. This is the first film from the company, though there is a stage production ("Puppet Up - Uncensored") and a TV show "No You Shut Up".


I can only guess that the concept of the story, by writer Todd Berger, was originally gleaned from the 1988 Bob Zemeckis fil "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" which mixed humans with animated characters. There are way too many similarities including the idea that humans can't stand puppets; in Zemeckis' film people disliked toons.

The plot follows Roger Rabbit only with a heavy lean toward vulgarity. This is when the film falls head first into something that smells like an homage to Seth MacFarlane ("Ted") or Seth Rogen ("Sausage Party"). There is plenty of cursing, an overblown sex scene, yet another rip-poof of Sharon Stone's famous "Basic Instinct" scene and way to many cliches.


The story revolves around Phil Philips (Voiced by Bill Barretta), a puppet detective who was kicked off the human police force when he failed to shoot another puppet that was holding his then partner, Connie (Melissa McCarthy), hostage. "Puppets don't shoot puppets." Now, he's rummaging around taking any kind of job that comes along.


He gets hired by a sexy puppet named Sandra (Dorian Davies) who wants him to find out who is blackmailing her about her secret life as a nymphomaniac. Immediately after he takes the job, a friend of his from an old Muppets-like TV show called Happytime, gets killed in what appears to be a robbery. Phil quickly surmises that it was a hit after which his brother is also murder. His brother starred in Happytime and Phil concludes someone is killing off the cast of Happytime.


Connie is assigned to investigate with Phil as a consultant and his assistant Bunny (Maya Rudolph) also helping out. But as they investigate, more of the cast is murdered, with puppet stuffing flying everywhere. Of course, you would have to be pretty dull if you can't figure out who the murderer is after the first ten minutes of the film. The story, in every sense of the word, is predictable. Extremely predictable. There was absolutely no genuine imagination in the script. The gags are even torn from other much better films, like "Ted" and "Team America".


The one thing that does work is the integration of the puppets with the humans and Henson's experience in bringing full-sized puppets to life. The production shots after the film ends are very cool. The problem is you have to sit through the film to see them. Fortunately, the movie is a very brief 91-minutes.


McCarthy is literally unfunny and Rudolph seems like she'll take any role. It is good to see Elizabeth Banks, though her character is just as pathetic as the others (think Jessica Rabbit).


"The Happytime Murders" is a pathetic ripoff of other adult oriented puppet/animation films. There are three or four moments that might draw a chuckle, but that's about it.   -- GRADE C- --   GEOFF BURTON