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Filthy puppet movie 'Happytime Murders' to battle 'Crazy Rich Asians' at the box office

Filthy puppet movie 'Happytime Murders' to battle 'Crazy Rich Asians' at the box office
Melissa McCarthy, left, stars in "The Happytime Murders." (Hopper Stone / STX Entertainment)

The libidinous, drug-snorting puppets of “The Happytime Murders” will try to make a killing at the box office this weekend.

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But the R-rated farce, from STXfilms and Jim Henson Co. (yes, really), will face stiff competition from Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Meg,” which have dominated August ticket sales as the summer film season draws to a close.

“The Happytime Murders,” set in an underbelly of Los Angeles in which humans and puppets co-exist, is expected to debut with a so-so $13 million to $15 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada this Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed prerelease audience surveys. It cost about $40 million to make.

Its grosses may not be enough to unseat “Crazy Rich Asians,” the well-received romantic comedy that opened with a strong $35 million in its first five days of release last weekend. Jon M. Chu’s film, about a Chinese American New Yorker who must contend with her boyfriend’s astoundingly wealthy family in Singapore, is benefiting from substantial buzz because of its nearly all-Asian and Asian American cast.

Prehistoric shark movie “The Meg,” meanwhile, has collected a solid $318 million worldwide, including $86 million in the United States and Canada.

Here’s what to watch.

Awkwafina, left, and Constance Wu appear in a scene from "Crazy Rich Asians."
Awkwafina, left, and Constance Wu appear in a scene from "Crazy Rich Asians." (Warner Bros.)

Filthy rich box office?

“The Happytime Murders,” in which a human cop (Melissa McCarthy) and a puppet investigate the brutal slaughter of a classic children’s show’s former cast members, is the latest attempt to use outrageous, irreverent humor to draw audiences to the multiplex. It’s a strategy that worked well for Sony Pictures’ bawdy cartoon “Sausage Party” in 2016.

However, dirty Hollywood comedies have struggled to compete with major film franchises on the big screen in recent years, as audiences gravitate to streaming services such as Netflix for their R-rated laughs.

A $15-million opening for “Happytime” would be similar to recent studio efforts such as Warner Bros.’ “Game Night” and “Tag.” The last R-rated comedy to open above $20 million was Universal Pictures’ “Blockers” in April (not counting Fox’s superhero blockbuster “Deadpool 2”).

Though “Happytime Murders” may seem blasphemous to fans of Kermit and Big Bird, the raunchy send-up boasts Muppet family lineage. The new film was directed by Brian Henson, the son of late Muppets creator Jim Henson, and director of the G-rated 1990s efforts “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island.”

Controversy has boosted publicity for “Happytime.” “Sesame Street” production company Sesame Workshop sued STX earlier this year to stop the studio from using the tagline “No Sesame. All Street” in its marketing campaign. A New York judge ruled against Sesame Workshop in May.

In a recent marketing stunt, STX and Henson Co. created the InkHole, a Los Angeles-based pop-up tattoo parlor and speakeasy with an open bar, a comedy club, a casino and a peep show.

Dog days of summer

This weekend’s other wide release isn’t expected to take a major bite out of the domestic film market.

Global Road Entertainment’s latest effort, “A.X.L.,” about a boy who befriends a high-tech robot dog on the run, is expected to gross a tepid $5 million in the United States and Canada through Sunday. The movie, which boasts a premise similar to “Transformers” and “Monster Trucks,” is likely to become the latest dud for Global Road, which has struggled to compete at the box office.

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Tang Media Partners, run by entrepreneur Donald Tang, launched Global Road in 2017 as the combination of indie distributor Open Road Films and foreign sales agent IM Global, which Tang acquired. The company’s recent releases include the flops “Show Dogs” and “Hotel Artemis.”

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