Up until a few years ago, every entry in the ever-growing set of Muppet movies was rated G. Then, in 2011, came the reboot, which earned a PG rating (for mild rude humor), as did its follow-up in 2014, “Muppets Most Wanted” (for mild action). Now, let’s see why the Motion Picture Association of America has given this newest Muppet movie an R. Aha! It’s for “strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material.”
But, come on, folks, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen puppets having sex or puppets being slaughtered (in this case, having their “stuffing” shot out or being ripped apart by dogs) in a feature film. Back in 2004, the “South Park” guys gave us “Team America: World Police,” which had all of that plus an appearance by a puppet Kim Jong Il. OK, technically, those were marionettes, and this film deals with soft, cute, cuddly Muppets.
You know something’s going to be different with this one when the words “Henson Alternative” are displayed across the screen at the start. Yes, it’s directed by Brian Henson, son of Muppet creator Jim Henson, but this is no typical Muppet movie.
The F-word is first heard about a minute in, and don’t bother even trying to keep track of how many times it’s uttered after that. It’s weird hearing Muppets and humans use it in a film that looks like this one, but it sure fits right in as part of the ambience. This is Los Angeles, and we’re listening to the voice over of Phil Philips (voice of Bill Barretta), a former cop who, when things went very wrong, turned to private investigator work. He’s a tough and world-weary puppet, who drinks rotgut bourbon in his office and is always disheveled. And he’s sure that a robbery/killing at a disgusting puppet hangout was a hit, not really a robbery.
Some backstory reveals that he and human cop Detective Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) were once partners, but now don’t even speak to each other. Of course, they’re put on the case together, even though he’s there only as a consultant.
The film works technical wonders in convincingly showing that that there’s nothing out of the ordinary about a world of puppets mingling with people. It’s too bad that most people treat puppets as lowlifes and, in return, most puppets don’t like people. In one of Phil’s many voice overs, he mumbles, “If you’re a puppet, you’re screwed.”
Phil’s right about that, and he’s right that the shotgun killings in that hangout had nothing to do with a robbery, and everything to do with the puppet cast members of an old TV show called “The Happytime Gang,” who are slowly but surely being bumped off. Alas, no useful help is offered by FBI Agent Campbell, who just gets in the way.
Will Detective Edwards and Phil get over their shared animosity and solve the crimes? Here, let me give something away: Yes, they will. But on the way there, audiences will be treated to a wholly outrageous movie that includes incredible amounts of violence, a couple of totally overboard sex scenes (one of them involving an octopus), both puppets and humans going through existential crises over events in their pasts (one of them involving a puppet liver transplant), and a plethora of scenes showing puppets smoking cigarettes. Oh, I almost forgot, part of the outrageousness is the plentiful supply of humor. This is a gross and violent and very funny movie about friendship and revenge. If you make it all the way through, stay for the credits, which show how green screen technique made it all happen.
But what about the kids? Relax, this film is fine for your kids, if your kids are at least 18-years-old.