'The Happytime Murders' Early Buzz: This Could Be The Worst Movie Of The Summer

Director Brian Henson's name may suggest wholesome family fare, but his new movie is anything but. The Happytime Murders is a raunchy comedy set in a world where puppets lie, cheat, steal, screw, and commit crimes. Sounds like a recipe for big laughs, right?

Well, the first reviews for the film are in and they're...not good. In fact, more than several critics are calling this the worst film of the summer, if not the year. Take a look for yourself.

Collider's Jeff Sneider didn't write a review, but he did post a positive tweet. One of the few.

IGN offers one of the most positive reviews of the bunch, singling out the craft of the puppeteers and how the raunchy humor works to make a point:

In short, Brian Henson didn't knock it out of the park, but he made his point. The exceptional puppeteering and mostly clever screenplay make a statement, and more-or-less prove that the artists behind The Happytime Murders are skilled craftspeople whose talents aren't being appreciated or utilized nearly enough. They are mature, even though their jokes are frequently immature as all hell.

Daily Dead provided one of the few truly and completely positive takes:

Look, if the concept of potty-mouthed puppets indulging in very salacious activities doesn't sound like something that is your cup of tea (and I get it), I'm afraid there's not much that this film will do to help quell those feelings. For me, though, I laughed myself silly on several occasions during The Happytime Murders, and the movie's few minor comedic misfires weren't enough to derail my overall enjoyment (there's a scene involving silly string being used as bodily fluids for Phil Philips, and the joke hangs around about 45 seconds too long).

The New York Times isn't effusive in its praise, but it is certainly kinder than many other critics:

Was it worth it? At certain moments, like the two mentioned, and other, similarly tasteless flights of nastiness, the answer (at least for this graduate of the Oscar the Grouch Academy of Trash Can Aesthetics) is emphatically yes. There are also some less aggressive, quite amusing squibs of absurdity. What would happen if a puppet's liver were transplanted into a human body — Melissa McCarthy's in particular? That the question doesn't even begin to make sense renders the result even funnier. Puppet murder scenes, strewn with fluff and shredded fabric, are also funny.

Nerdist found the two main characters, Melissa McCarthy's cop and Bill Barretta's puppet P.I., to be a surprisingly effective duo:

McCarthy in particular seems to excel at this sort of conceit – an antagonistic mismatch of co-stars – and it's her commitment to the role that makes Edwards' estrangement from Philips seem quite so lived-in and believable. But the subtle designs of Philips' face, with its constant half-resignation, make him a surprisingly evocative counterpart and leading man, bolstered by Barretta's performance, which suggests a three-foot-tall, blue felt Mike Ehrmantraut. They actually make a good team, whether they're bickering at one another or banding together, and seem to navigate this (literal) Tinseltown's vagaries with a surprising degree of dignity and pathos.

The Hollywood Reporter is warmer than most, praising the script and Henson's direction:

While this effort doesn't reach those films' comic heights, it's more than funny enough, packing lots of genuine, if frequently tasteless, laughs into its relatively brief running time (about 80 minutes before the lengthy credits kick in). Todd Berger's script features some very clever smutty dialogue as well as numerous puppet-oriented sight gags perfectly orchestrated by director Henson, whose decades of experience in the field is manifestly evident.

However, the kind notices end there. IndieWire straight-up calls the film the worst release of the summer:

An admirably debased but deeply unfunny Muppet noir that opens with a porn-addicted bunny getting his head blown off, it peaks with a Robert De Niro-inspired puppet ejaculating silly string all over his office, and presumably ends with a post-credit scene in which all of the actors fire their agents (full disclosure: I fled the theater during the blooper reel).

ScreenCrush echoes that sentiment, calling it the worst movie of the summer as well:

The Happytime Murders tries so desperately hard to push the envelope of indecency that it crosses into the realm of being astonishingly unfunny. I honestly can't name another time I've sat in a theater and witnessed such deafening silence fall across an audience during a comedy than in my press screening for this. It isn't the mere notion of watching puppets act naughty that is offensive or shocking; what's shocking is how Henson's film, written by Todd Berger with a story by Dee Austin Robertson, thinks it's hilarious and edgy as it continues to make a fool of itself throughout the (thankfully brief) 91-minute runtime. The Happytime Murders is like that guy who gets too wasted too early at the party, taking things to an 11 when everyone else is comfortably tipsy at a seven. It's as if a group of puppeteers who've been forced to stymie their horn-dog sense of humor for years are finally free to shout every crude joke at the top of their lungs all at once.

Vanity Fair takes it a step further and calls it the worst movie of the year:

I'm perfectly willing to suspend a hearty amount of disbelief should a movie earn devotion in other ways. But pedantry is all I've got for Happytime, a torturously unfunny movie that has the feel of something dusted off from old late-night cable—an early-2000s Comedy Central raunch-fest made for snickering college freshmen who had just barely begun to explore the depravities of the Internet, and thus were quite tickled by the idea of puppets swearing and sexing. Of course, puppets saying naughty things has been done well before, in the Tony-winning Broadway musical Avenue Q. But that was for girls and gays, man. The Happytime Murders? This one's for the boys.

The Guardian doesn't have many nice things to say either:

Though that's just one component of a larger, more comprehensive network of mistakes. It's not enough for Henson to ransack the X-Rated Muppet Joke Book, he also bungles the delivery. Even as the storyline tromps through the sleazier side of showbiz, it never pushes its darker impulses through to the howling, hysterical madness festering just beneath the shiny surfaces of Tinseltown. It instead compromises with gross-out gags that miss the "amusing" mark and land closer to "nauseating". A snippet of a BDSM flick in which a puppet Dalmatian tortures a human fireman is worth a chuckle; an extended bit about the inbred children of an unholy brother-sister romance, less so.

Variety says that the film front-loads its dirtiest jokes and then runs out of steam:

It should come as no surprise that "Happytime" comes up farcically short as a metaphor for racism. But its most fatal miscalculation is the decision to frontload so many of its crassest setpieces into the first 15 or 20 minutes, depriving the rest of the film of the shock value that is its entire raison d'etre. By the midway point, the movie is so strapped for ideas that it resorts to turning dud one-off jokes (characters mistaking McCarthy for a man, "an asshole says what?") into painfully extended running gags.

Pajiba says that Henson's eye and ear for comedy ultimately ring hollow:

Much of the movie's attempts at humor are based in shock value. The Happytime Murders expects you to be dropped jawed with guffaws as colorful puppets drop f-bombs, piss glitter, offer blow jobs for drug money, and watch octopus-on-cow tentacle porn. In short bursts, these outlandish visual gags are joltingly funny, but Henson's comedic timing here and throughout is torturously slow. He lingers on scenes until they're no longer shocking or fun, just strange and mirthless. I mean, just how much of a puppet-Dalmation dominatrix performing BDSM, watersports, and nipple torture on a chubby, shirtless man do we really need to see?

The Village Voice despairs at the lack of imagination on display:

Coming after Crank Yankers, Team America: World Police, Meet the Feebles, and Wonder Showzen, none of the giddy raunch in Happytime Murders is new. What is: the name "Henson" on a movie inviting us to giggle at puppet pubes. (Both this and Puppet Up! carry the production shingle "Henson Alternative.") Some viewers, perhaps, might be shocked at the association of Mr. Rainbow Connection with scenes set in porno shops, strip clubs, and drug dens. What jolted me, though, was seeing the Henson name all over a project that's so often bland and listless, so tame in its designs, so limited in its imagination, so joyless in its execution.

The Happytime Murders opens in theaters on August 24, 2018. Look for /Film's review soon.