Tag Archives: Maya Rudolph

The Happytime Murders (2018, Brian Henson)

The Happytime Murders is exceptionally foul and exceptionally funny. It’s set in a world where animate puppets and humans co-exist, with the human bigotry eradicated because they’ve all decided to hate on the puppets instead. There’s no explanation of how the puppets came to be or when they came to be or whatnot; they just exist. In the past, before the humans started hating on them, the puppets were entertainers who loved to dance. Now they’re all hooked on sucrose, which gets them high. It’s such intense sucrose it’d kill a human to ingest it, which both is and isn’t important to the story.

The first act sort of sets up the world—the lead, a disgraced ex-cop puppet private investigator (performed by a fantastic Bill Barretta), narrates. He’s in the City of Angels, he works out of a crappy office, he’s got a loyal human girl Friday for a secretary (Maya Rudolph, who’s also really good), and he’s trying to make things right for the downtrodden puppets. The movie opens with him getting a case from a fetching nymphomaniac puppet (Dorien Davies); it initially seems like a somewhat crude riff on a film noir, down to Barretta’s office looking like Sam Spade’s.

However, once Barretta gets to the puppet porn store, it’s clear Happytime is going a very, very, very different route. In fact, Barretta’s going to end up forgetting about client Davies because he gets wrapped up in a spree killing case where someone is targeting the puppets who used to be on a popular primetime sitcom, “The Happytime Gang.” Barretta’s involvement starts wrong place, wrong time, but then his old boss (a likable but dreadfully miscast Leslie David Baker) forces Barretta to work the case—as a consultant—with his old partner, human Melissa McCarthy.

Barretta and McCarthy used to be the best of partners, then there was a shooting gone wrong and McCarthy had Barretta not just drummed off the force but also got a law passed puppets can’t be cops. It’s unclear if the no puppet cops thing is nationwide or just L.A. The movie gives up on relevant exposition once McCarthy shows up, which is kind of fine. Todd Berger’s script has constantly hilarious moments but it’s not a good script, it just knows expertly executed puppets (by the post-Muppet Henson company no less) being inordinately obscene is going to be funny. Any deeper and Berger wouldn’t be able to handle it.

So it’s up to Barretta and McCarthy to get over their past history and solve the case. Or just survive the case, as they don’t just have to the bad guy to ferret out, they’ve also got to contend with jackass human FBI agent Joel McHale sticking his nose in. Oh, and Barretta’s ex-girlfriend, human Elizabeth Banks; he didn’t leave things quite right with her.

Mostly the movie is McCarthy mugging through scenes with puppets, aptly delivering filthy dialogue, with some nods at legitimate character development for Barretta as he reclaims his previous potential. While also delivering filthy dialogue.

It’s hilarious. McCarthy’s really good with the puppets. So good it doesn’t even matter she’s a barely shaded caricature who gets less personality in the script than Rudolph. More than Banks though, who initially seems like stunt casting, then not, then stunt casting again. Meanwhile McHale is… in a miscasting boat similar to Baker’s, but with less likability.

As far as Henson’s direction goes… well, the puppet work is outstanding. He does a great job directing the puppets. Otherwise, it’s a fairly bland effort on his part. Every shot seems constructed to be as simple as possible, which might be requisite given the puppets—the end credits show just how much work went into the production—but it’s nowhere near as enthusiastic as the movie needs. Maybe if Henson hadn’t shot it wide Panavision aspect ratio without any idea how to fill the frame; though Mitchell Amundsen’s similarly bland photography doesn’t help things. The puppetry is no doubt inventive, imaginative; the direction is neither.

The Happytime Murders isn’t a very good movie, but it’s still a somewhat awesome one. Barretta, McCarthy, and—to a smaller, but significant degree—Rudolph, make it happen.

It’s so exceptionally foul-minded, it has to be seen to be believed.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Henson; screenplay by Todd Berger, based on a story by Berger and Dee Austin Robertson; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Brian Scott Olds; music by Christopher Lennertz; production designer, Chris L. Spellman; costume designer, Arjun Bhasin; produced by Ben Falcone, Jeffrey Hayes, Henson, and Melissa McCarthy; released by STX Entertainment.

Starring Bill Barretta (Phil Philips), Melissa McCarthy (Detective Connie Edwards), Maya Rudolph (Bubbles), Leslie David Baker (Lt. Banning), Dorien Davies (Sandra), Joel McHale (Agent Campbell), Victor Yerrid (Larry), Kevin Clash (Lyle), Drew Massey (Goofer), and Elizabeth Banks (Jenny).


The Way, Way Back (2013, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)

At a certain point during The Way, Way Back, it became clear the film was never going to do anything interesting. Then, all of a sudden, writer-directors Faxon and Rash get to their “realistic” ending–by realistic, I mean it doesn’t resolve the most important story lines–and even though the film isn’t going to reward the viewer, at least it’s doing something different.

Then they go back on it. And given both Faxon and Rash appear in the film, when they show up, it almost feels like they couldn’t make that bold a move. Back is a film without any bold moves. It’s about a teenager (Liam James) who goes off to spend the summer with his mom, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s daughter.

Steve Carell’s a great jerk as the boyfriend, but there are no layers to his character. Toni Collette plays the mom; she’s similarly shallow, though Faxon and Rush seem to get she shouldn’t be.

Thanks to the cute girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb) and the awesome, immature water park owner–Sam Rockwell in just as much a type-casted role as Collette’s–James eventually comes into his own. Yep, it’s a standard growing up story.

I won’t spoil if Collette gets her act together thanks to her kid.

A lot of the film is appealing. James is good in the lead–he plays it hostile, which is cool. Robb’s good, Alison Janney’s fun as her partying mom, Rockwell’s great.

But there’s nothing to it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Tatiana S. Riegel; music by Rob Simonsen; production designer, Mark Ricker; produced by Tom Rice and Kevin J. Walsh; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Liam James (Duncan), Sam Rockwell (Owen), Toni Collette (Pam), Steve Carell (Trent), AnnaSophia Robb (Susanna), Allison Janney (Betty), Maya Rudolph (Caitlin), Rob Corddry (Kip), Amanda Peet (Joan), Zoe Levin (Steph), Nat Faxon (Roddy), Jim Rash (Lewis) and River Alexander (Peter).


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Idiocracy (2006, Mike Judge)

Idiocracy has one fundamental flaw–and plenty of little ones, but the fundamental one is too glaring and too fixable–the two leads do not have a romance and the film pretends they do. Foul-mouthed prostitute Maya Rudolph all of a sudden starts talking without slang and doing sweet things. Then, at the end, there’s supposed to be some romantic connection between her and Luke Wilson, who spends the movie thinking she’s a painter (one who’s really scared of her art manager). The romantic element isn’t part of Idiocracy because it doesn’t fit with what Mike Judge is trying to do (which is to mix Sleeper with some Fight Club cynicism–with a handful of fart jokes) and so he avoids it. But in the end, when Rudolph is finally acting–Wilson acts the whole time–the mix needs to work and it doesn’t and Idiocracy goes out with a whimper. The ending is similar to a 1960s educational film reel about… moths or something. It doesn’t just stop, it crumbles away.

Wilson gives a really good comedic leading man performance in Idiocracy, except he comes off as way too smart for the guy who’s supposed to have a hundred IQ. He’s not one of Idiocracy‘s litany of problems. And the most apparent problem, the one starting from the first minute, is the narration. Idiocracy is fully narrated (lending to the educational film reel comparison) and that method, in addition to the ludicrous fade-outs, suggests there wasn’t enough story. Even if the narration and the fade-outs were in Judge’s first draft of the screenplay… there wouldn’t have been enough story in it either. Fully narrated films are either The Magnificent Ambersons or they are not. Idiocracy is not (also because the narration doesn’t make any sense… the narrator is talking to the audience in the present day, not the people who would be listening to it in the year 2700 or whatever).

Other significant problems are the special effects. Lots of futuristic movies are made cheaply and well. Idiocracy instead goes with video game level (and not state-of-the-art) CG and it looks silly. At first I thought Judge was doing a Planet of the Apes homage, which would have been funny, but he wasn’t.

Dax Shepard and Justin Long are both funny in the easiest roles in the history of cinema (idiots), but Terry Crews does a great job in the role of the best elected official (the President of America) since the Duke of New York.

The movie’s funny (I laughed every two minutes or so… good fart jokes, anti-corporate sentiment, and a general mockery of red state Americans)–and, compared to other current comedies, it’s still inexplicable why Fox hid the theatrical release–but as Judge’s follow-up to Office Space, an incredibly thoughtful, if flawed, film, it’s an abject failure.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Judge; screenplay by Judge and Etan Cohen, from a story by Judge; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by David Rennie; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Darren Gilford; produced by Judge and Elysa Koplovitz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Luke Wilson (Joe), Maya Rudolph (Rita), Dax Shepard (Frito) and Terry Crews (President Camacho).


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