Corrupting a typical family-friendly genre is a specific yet effective selling device for a comedy. The Happytime Murders attempts to parody the Muppets the way Sausage Party parodied Disney animation. The movie is a vulgar, violent, and gritty melding puppetry with unrefined noir. It packs in a who’s who of comedians while also displaying some great puppeteer work. It’s sometimes fun, but the movie is never as funny or shocking as it thinks it is and unfortunately suffers from a flat script.

The movie is set in a world where humans and puppets coexist and the puppets are viewed with extreme prejudice. It takes place in a modern day Los Angeles where crime is rampant. A grizzled, hard smoking private investigator puppet named Phil is forced to reunite with his ex-partner, Detective Connie Edwards, in order to find a murderer who is killing off cast members of a 1980s children’s show called the Happy Town Gang.

Melissa McCarthy is always a reliable choice when it comes to comedies (raunchy or not). Starring as Detective Connie Edwards, McCarthy proves that she is a master at comedy. Sure, we’ve seen her do this shtick before but she doesn’t phone in a performance. Along with McCarthy are a handful of comedic performers in the “human” ensemble including Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, and Elizabeth Banks. Rudolph and McCarthy have the best scenes but of course, you don’t have to look too far in their movie catalog to know they have great chemistry.

But the biggest selling point of the movie is not the humans it’s the vulgar puppets- at least you would think. Unfortunately, the puppets are not as interesting as they ought to be. The lead puppet, Phil Phillips is a classic grizzled detective that you could pluck from any film noir series. Outside of him being literally blue and crass, he is not that interesting. He is the straight man to McCarthy’s sugar chugging, prat-falling detective but the movie can’t decide what Phil’s comedic strengths are. Phil curses a lot and that’s pretty much it. And the Happy Town Gang members are so forgettable and brief that they are barely worth being in the movie. The movie needs a better ensemble of puppets to work with McCarthy rather than just a singular dull character that reluctantly tags along.

Puppets behaving badly is a great hook but when that’s all there is to offer it can get repetitive and lazy. The concept is so outrageously fun that it’s surprising it never reaches the heights it could have gone. It does a lousy job at giving us more info on what exactly puppets do in this hybrid world. There are hints they were once revered entertainers but have been forgotten about but the movie never gives us an explanation or backstory. It may sound like too much to ask for a movie about cursing puppets but it’s such a missed opportunity for great parody- especially when the movie sets itself up with suggestions of nostalgia gone haywire.  It’s like a lesser version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit exchanging cartoons with puppets. There are even emotional plot points asking you to take it seriously but the movie never earns it.

Son of the legendary Jim Henson is at the helm of this so/so vulgar comedy. Brian Henson knows his ways around puppetry but needs a better grasp on the tone and comedy. The movie is nowhere near as trippy as Peter Jackson’s adult 1980’s puppet movie Meet the Feebles but it could have used a shot in the arm of excitement. Some of the gags work and there are a couple amusing setups but it’s a rather by the numbers sort not dull action comedy. Thankfully the human cast makes up for the major downfalls of what could have been a colorful raunchy good time