CVIndependent

Wed12112019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s tough being a puppet these days. After what seemed like a return to puppet glory with The Muppets in 2011, the cinematic Muppet momentum ended three years later with Muppets Most Wanted—and then the 2015 TV series tanked.

Considering this stalling of The Muppets franchise, it seemed like a good time for a former Muppet stalwart, Brian Henson (son of Muppet founder Jim), to take puppets in a more-adult direction. After all, Jim Henson had a more-adult incarnation for The Muppets in mind way back in the 1970s when they appeared on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (It’s true!) A raunchier band of puppets would be a fine addition to the Henson legacy.

That is, it would be a fine addition had Henson Alternative—an “adult” branch of the Jim Henson Company—made something better than The Happytime Murders, a listless, joyless, humorless exercise in how not to make a puppet movie.

The film is set up like a Muppets movie, with puppets interacting with humans—but Kermit and company are banned from the set in favor of bland, seriously unfunny puppets that fail to distinguish themselves in any way. Brian Henson directs, his first big-screen directing gig since Muppet Treasure Island, and it’s a lost puppet cause. Henson’s directing chops have not aged like fine wine; they’ve aged like a mango that got lost in the back of the refrigerator six months ago.

Melissa McCarthy—having a disastrous year with this and the terrible Life of the Party—takes the lead human role as Det. Connie Edwards, former partner of puppet cop-turned-private investigator Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta).

The two team up again when puppet cast members of ’80s TV show The Happytime Gang start getting the cotton pulled out of them in a series of visually uncreative deaths. (OK, the one puppet getting shredded by band of dogs led by a Boston terrier made me chuckle a little, but it’s only because I have a Boston terrier currently living in my home, and I’m pretty sure she would shred a living puppet if given the chance.)

While there are hints of some funny premises—for example, Connie got a puppet liver transplant, so she’s tragically addicted to sugar—none of them are taken to fruitfully funny extremes. That’s because writer Todd Berger’s screenplay thinks gags should be a laugh-getters just because they’re naughty. There’s no room for wit or depth in his land of puppetry, just F-bombs and silly-string ejaculate. Frankly, I’m surprised the film doesn’t have an overload of puppet farts. (Actually, puppet farts might be funny. They’d sound like wind passing through sheets left out on a line to dry on a sunny summer day.)

Other human actors looking totally lost include Joel McHale as an FBI guy. (I couldn’t help but notice that McHale’s hairpiece/transplants look less convincing than the hair on the puppet heads.) Maya Rudolph fares a little better as Philip’s human secretary, but Leslie David Baker appears to be in serious pain delivering his typical police-chief lines. Elizabeth Banks gets the worst gig as Jenny, the only human member of the Happytime Gang, who is forced to make out with Philip.

I am very much up for some nastily funny puppet activity. I think Team America: World Police is one of the 21st century’s funniest movies, and The Happytime Murders had good people involved. Alas, a mundane McCarthy and babbling felt heads lead to what will stand as one of the year’s lousiest movies.

I’d say nothing that nothing good could come out of The Happytime Murders, but maybe its failure will create a hankering for the return of Kermit and friends. Regardless, something tells me if McCarthy gets a script for a new Muppet movie by courier in the future, she’s going to kick that courier in the nether region.

The Happytime Murders is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I was a little worried about The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale, the eponymous host’s return to riffing on bad TV. The Soup, which he hosted for 11 (!) years, was a good time, but it ran its course—and after McHale’s thus-far so-so sitcom and movie career, a return to bad TV riffing sounded a little desperate and wrong.

Well, shame on me: McHale still rocks at this shit.

Granted, the first episode of this series—released each Sunday on Netflix—compounded my worries, because it was quite bad. The bits fell flat, and the timing of the gags and jokes was awkward. But then a funny thing happened: The show got really, really funny in its second and third episodes. Yes, McHale and friends have hit their stride, and this series turns out to be a happy return for McHale rather than a sad retread.

While a long bit with Jason Priestley in the first episode doesn’t work at all, Billy Eichner makes numerous appearances in Episode 3 that are pretty gosh darned hilarious. McHale goes from looking kind of lost to being totally into the groove by Episode 3, and the future for this series looks strong.

Long live Joel McHale, and may he make fun of shitty TV forever!

The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

When Doug Kenney died in 1980, he took a legendary comedic pedigree with him. It’s safe to say there was nothing like Animal House and Caddyshack before or after their releases. Kenney, one of the founding fathers of National Lampoon magazine, co-wrote both of those films. (He also produced Caddyshack.)

David Wain, the master comedy director of such wonderful things as Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, gives the legend of Kenney a slightly uneven but ultimately enjoyable tribute with A Futile and Stupid Gesture. The movie chronicles Kenney’s everlasting contributions to American comedy, with Will Forte delivering strong work as the humor maestro.

The movie covers events from the late 1960s, when Kenney attended Harvard, through 1980, when Kenney either fell or jumped off of a cliff in Hawaii shortly after the release of Caddyshack. His little golf movie took a critical shellacking upon its initial release, something Kenney allegedly took hard. Of course, it has since endured and is now considered by many to be one of the funniest movies ever made.

The cast includes Joel McHale as Chevy Chase and Seth Green as Christopher Guest. Domhnall Gleeson co-stars as fellow Lampoon founder Henry Beard, while Martin Mull narrates the picture as, of all things, Kenney, if he had lived to be old. Thomas Lennon proves he was born to play Michael O’Donoghue, and Jon Daly does a sometimes-impressive take on Bill Murray.

The film never really finds a consistent tone, but the sheer magnitude of the subject matter makes it consistently watchable, as does Forte’s strong work.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In Adult Beginners, Jake (Nick Kroll) loses all of his money on a get-rich tech scheme, and winds up moving in with his sister Justine (Rose Byrne) and her husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale), where he takes a temporary gig as their son’s nanny. The trip home helps straighten out Jake as he gets a deeper appreciation of family—but not before he hits some speed bumps.

This is standard, by-the-numbers stuff made almost tolerable by Kroll, Byrne and Cannavale, who make the most of it. Cannavale is especially good as the happy-go-lucky brother-in-law who doesn’t mind Jake crashing at his place, because he gets somebody with whom to smoke pot. Byrne is funny as the pregnant mom who never gets to go out and has a few issues with her deadbeat brother. Kroll is OK as a guy having a mini-meltdown, although he seems more suited to broader comedy.

Blink, and you’ll miss Joel McHale in a small role as Jake’s coke-snorting buddy, and Bobby Moynihan of Saturday Night Live as a clothing-store clerk. The film is directed by Ross Katz, who captures some good performances with a script that leaves a lot to be desired.

Adult Beginners opens Friday, May 1, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430. It’s also available via on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

A good time for a good cause was the goal at the Will Powered Golf Classic, held Monday, March 3, at Palm Desert’s Bighorn Golf Club, and the Desert Smash tennis tournament, held Tuesday, March 4, at the La Quinta Resort.

The events were hosted by actor/comedian Will Ferrell and cancer survivor Craig Pollard, the founder of Cancer for College.

Players competed in a “shamble” format in the annual golfing fundraiser, which has been funding scholarships for cancer survivors since 1994. The golf tournament kicked off Cancer for College’s 2014 Desert Showdown, which continued on Tuesday, March 4, with the Desert Smash tennis tournament, as well as a concert featuring Nelly and Boyz II Men at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa.

Ferrell and Pollard were joined this year by Kevin Spacey, the two-time Academy Award-winning actor and star of the hit Netflix series House of Cards. Since 1994, Cancer for College has granted more than $2 million in college scholarships to more than 1,000 cancer survivors.

At an impromptu press conference on his way to tee-off on Monday, Ferrell touted all of the charity-centric activities included in this year’s expanded Desert Showdown. In particular, he expressed excitement about the concert at The Show, modestly called Will Ferrell’s Epically Awesome Desert Showdown Concert Extravaganza.

“I don’t think that Coachella music fest will be able to compare! And that’s a scoop, by the way,” he said.

Regarding the serious cause underlying the fun and games, Ferrell explained the perspective he and Pollard share.

“We use humor to kind of talk about cancer,” said Ferrell. “You know, it’s such a taboo subject, because people don’t want to talk about having gone through the disease, but we kind of mix it up. One of the best parts is hearing the recent scholarship recipients’ speeches, where they talk about everything they’ve gone through, and how motivated they are to make a difference.”

Moments later, just after the celebrity groupings were announced on the first tee, the crowd was told that Will Ferrell would face the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, at the Desert Smash tourney on the next day.

“I’m going to be playing with my driver,” deadpanned Ferrell as he waved his golf club in the air.

On Tuesday, March 4, however, that driver was nowhere to be seen, as fans of tennis and celebrity star-gazing flocked to the La Quinta Resort’s tennis club. Desert Showdown Day 2 got under way with celebs and amateurs filling many of the back courts for short doubles matches. Comedian/actor Jon Lovitz, singer Redfoo, actor Joel McHale of Community and actor Timothy Olyphant of Justified were among the stars who participated.

In the afternoon, fans ringed the stadium to watch the featured matches. Ferrell decided serenade the crowd during his opening remarks with a flawed rendition of the Canadian national anthem. No. 2-ranked tennis pro Novak Djokovic, who was teamed with Ferrell in one of the most entertaining doubles matches, played while wearing a wig as an homage to Will Ferrell’s character Jackie Moon from the film Semi-Pro.

Also competing were Bridesmaids actress Rebel Wilson, two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka, the top-ranked doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, and former BNP Paribas Open winners Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova, among others.

As play was about to begin, Will Ferrell told the crowd, “I’ve been practicing for this moment my entire life! Make sure you hydrate. I’m doing that by drinking a lot of tequila and vodka.”

The contests were frequently interrupted by impromptu fundraising auction events, the proceeds of which all went to Cancer for College. One highly successful auction was inspired by valley resident and WBO world welterweight boxing champion Timothy Bradley, who provided two ringside tickets to his upcoming bout with Manny Pacquiao. As bidding escalated rapidly, Kevin Spacey taunted his doubles opponent Ferrell to bid higher, saying, “Come on, Will! Anchorman did better than that.”

Ferrell responded by urging Spacey to pony up some of his earnings from his Netflix series House of Cards.

“Netflix only pays us in DVDs,” quipped Spacey.

It’s fair to say that a good time was had by all.

Scroll down to view a photo gallery.

Original version published at 10:45 a.m., Tuesday, March 4; updated version published at 10:15 a.m., Wednesday, March 5.

Published in Snapshot