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The Happytime Murders

Puppets are people, too

© STX Entertainment
       In an alternate version of Los Angeles, puppets and humans live together. Not quite in harmony, however, as puppets are second-class citizens harassed by police and assaulted by children.
       With the revival of an old children’s television show, puppet stars get a new lease on life — and death, as a murderer stalks them. For an insider in the puppet world, the first (and last) puppet ever on the police force, Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta: Muppet Babies) reteams with Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy: Life of the Party). 
        Can the former partners make peace? Or will they bicker as puppets are slaughtered? 
       The Happytime Murders is the quarter-century-old classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? updated with graphic sex and violence. Let the fluffy puppets fool you into taking a child to this movie, and you’ll have to explain puppet pornography and pubic hair (a plot point).
       Director Brian Henson (Which Witch) knows a lot about puppeteering. He cut his teeth in the studio of his legendary father, Muppet master Jim Henson. But he’s a little murky on story development. The Happytime world is barely sketched out, and few rules govern what affects or kills puppets. 
        Jokes and concepts seem conceived by adults bored with working on children’s shows. An especially disturbing storyline about a civilian shooting reaches a horrid conclusion.
        Melissa McCarthy is the redeeming factor. Her physical abilities and reactions draw laughs from even the lamest setups. She also displays amazing potential as an action star. Her brawl with a gang of puppet toughs is the best moment in the movie.
       Is The Happytime Murders worth your time and money? That’s a matter of taste. I giggled along with most of the audience at the shocking antics of these profane puppets. Stay through the credits for fascinating footage of the puppeteers in action. 
Fair Comedy • R • 91 mins. 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
       With debts and toughs pursuing Jimmy (Jack Reynor) after his release from prison, rebuilding his relationship with younger brother Eli (Myles Truitt) is hard-going.
       The going gets much harder when Eli uses a piece of alien technology to protect Jimmy. Every criminal in town wants it; so do the aliens. 
This story of brotherly love and alien guns is an interesting mashup of genres. Even with uninspired writing, chemistry could redeem it.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 102 mins. 
Juliet, Naked
       Annie (Rose Byrne) wants to start a family. Boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is interested only in discovering the whereabouts of his musical idol Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). 
       Fed up, Annie writes a nasty review of Crowe’s latest album. Duncan walks out, but Crowe steps in. He seems to agree with her assessment, and the two correspond.
       A romantic comedy about growing up and making connections, this could be lots of fun. Hawke is a veteran of intellectual romantic movies, and Byrne is always a winning presence. On the downside, it could devolve into farce due to myriad coincidences. 
Prospects: Bright • R • 98 mins. 
The Little Stranger
       Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called back to Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked as a maid.
      The mansion has fallen into disrepair, and its quirks inspire sinister imaginings in the doctor charged with treating a son who returned from the war badly burned and full of terrors. As he investigates the house’s history and his own memories, Faraday uncovers tragedies that may be fueling the odd happenings. 
     Based on a bestselling book, The Little Stranger is a British ghost story. That means lots of rushing down halls, creaking doors and fraught looks. Don’t expect a green apparition to pop out of the walls; this subtler form of horror is about the psychological torture of people trapped in their memories. 
      If you’re a fan of tension and period costuming, this should be a winner. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 111 mins. 
Operation Finale 
       In the 1960s, an Argentinean girl meets a German boy. When she brings him home to meet her father, a blind survivor of Dachau, the boy introduces himself as Klaus Eichmann. That puts everyone on edge.
        Father and daughter report their suspicions to Mossad.
       Striking at the chance the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, is still alive, Mossad assembles a team of agents. Their stealth charge: infiltrate Argentina, positively identify Adolf Eichmann and bring him to Israel for trial.   They can’t be caught, and Eichmann cannot be harmed. 
        Stars Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley turn in bravura performances in recreating a mostly true story. You may already know how it ends, but Operation Finale is more about the process of capturing Eichmann than the results. It’s also an exercise in frustration, with plodding side stories interrupting the tense plot. 
Fair Drama • PG-13 • 123 mins.