The creative union of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg has produced a litany of contemporary comedic gems, from the instant-classic Superbad to the headline-making lightning rod (yet still curiously overlooked) The Interview. The duo may have ridden Judd Apatow’s coattails to success, but they’ve both done as much to mold the last decade’s comedy scene in their image as their mentor has. The Rogen/Goldberg enterprise hasn’t been flawless in its consistency (the recent The Night Before and Neighbors 2 being underwhelming showings), but these guys have proven time and again that they know funny, and even their misses contain no shortage of micro-hits.
This is what makes Sausage Party, the pair’s hard-R initial foray into animation, so perplexing. It’s an unqualified miss, a movie every inch as miscalculated and groan-inducing as it sounded in description and looked to be in previews. Any hope that Rogen and Goldberg knew what they were doing here, that they surely found a way to silk purse what seemed to be an obvious sow’s ear, is dashed fairly quickly. Sausage Party is precisely the movie you thought it would be, riddled as it is with facepalm food puns and filthy humor. It’s comedy botulism.
Essentially a ribald, foodstuff variation on Toy Story, the film opens with a sweeping musical number that introduces us to the edible denizens of Shopwell’s supermarket, a bustling, multicultural community that is home to Frank (Seth Rogen), a sausage living in a package with nine roommates, including Carl (Jonah Hill at his Jonah-Hilliest) and misshapen runt Barry (Michael Cera). Frank’s package is neighbored--in a curiously unrefrigerated display--by a pack of buns housing his love interest Brenda (Kristen Wiig), and the two of them share a dream of being “chosen” by the gods and entering the Great Beyond, the realm outside of Shopwell’s sliding doors.
That dream is shattered when a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store, bearing awful news of the gruesome, digestive horrors that actually await the food products in the outside world. After an apocalyptic shopping cart disaster displaces them from their packages, Frank and Brenda have to navigate the labyrinthine Shopwell’s world, teaming up with Woody Allen-ish Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton) and his archrival Vash (David Krumholtz), a Middle Eastern-accented lavash, as they are pursued by their vengeful nemesis, a literal douche (Nick Kroll speaking gym-bro).
If the name “Sammy Bagel Jr.” and the concept of a douchey douche are inherently funny to you, then congratulations on your recent fifth-grade graduation. Sausage Party has exactly two modes: anthropomorphic food makes cornball food jokes straight out of a bad TV commercial and then anthropmophoric food swears and talks about sex acts. The film is so awash in truly painful food gags that it’s almost as though Rogen and Goldberg were gunning for anti-comedy. Sausage Party plays exactly as if it were ghost-written by a playground. It’s the sort of thing you’d laugh your ass off while high as a kite and then immediately discard once you fell back to earth. Perhaps Rogen and Goldberg never came back down.
Sausage Party, with its hyper-filthy content and clumsy stabs at satire, seems to fancy itself a sibling to 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but that film’s humor was truly inspired within its foxhole of wanton perversity and incisive in its cultural takedowns. Sausage Party is a movie that expects you to laugh when it names a stereotypically gay Twinkie “Twink.” There are inartful overtures toward such hot buttons as religious faith and cultural acceptance, but nothing that feels especially profound or witty. The film is so preoccupied with barn-door-broad racial stereotypes (Salma Hayek as a taco, Bill Hader doing Native American shtick as a bottle of booze named Firewater AND Mexican shtick as a bottle of tequila) that it would almost count as an act of bravery in the era of Twitter outrage if any of it were at all funny.
It just feels so incredibly lazy, as if Rogen and Goldberg were getting off on the idea that they’ve become such industry titans that they could even get something this indefensibly stupid financed, produced and released. Any notion that they were Trojan-Horsing something genuinely brilliant and incendiary under the cover of insipid juvenilia is in vain. The film does go to a few places in its final stretch—involving bath salts, human casualties and a go-for-broke food orgy--that does inch toward the subversiveness it clearly thinks is in play from the get-go, but none of it wipes away the bad taste from the typhoon of hackiness that has preceded it. Sausage Party is a grossly unappetizing feast whipped up by two guys who should know their way around the kitchen much better.
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