Mark Reviews Movies

Sausage Party


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

Cast: The voices of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, Nick Kroll, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, Bill Hader, Anders Holm, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Scott Underwood

MPAA Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 8/12/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 12, 2016

Sausage Party is a prime example of what people used to call an "equal opportunity offender." Maybe they still call it that. Honestly, with the way what is and isn't considered offensive changes nowadays, who really knows? There are certain standards that have been pretty consistent for a while now, and this movie breaks them quite regularly. That's the movie's point: Find as many targets as possible, indulge in mocking those subjects with wild abandon, and then plead innocence. How can the movie possibly be guilty of being offensive to this group of people or this idea when it also went after that group of people or that idea?

Such an approach either works, if there's more to the material than just trying to generate offense, or comes across as a dependable defense disguised as a comedic technique. This movie sort of splits the difference. There is a core idea here beyond the most obvious one, which is to make a computer-animated movie that looks as if it's for children but most decidedly is not. The central thematic concept has to do with questions of faith and religion, as well as the eternal existential crisis of not knowing one's place in the universe or the meaning behind life. It also features a villain that's a walking, talking feminine hygiene product, which acts like what he is (lots of insults peppered with "bro"). So there's that, too.

The effectiveness of the movie's humor is uneven, primarily because it's attempting to work in all of these modes. It's also because the screenplay by the team of Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg is willing to push the envelope in a couple of those departments, while stopping short in others.

It's fine by them, for example, to have a bagel and a piece of lavash argue about whether or not the bagels and gefilte fish should expand their placement on the grocery store aisle they share (They eventually come to a one-aisle solution after realizing how similar they are). It's apparently tougher, though, for the screenwriters to take the question of the human gods, who are rumored to bring foodstuff to the paradise of the "Great Beyond" outside the store's automatic doors, to its logical conclusion. As for the German aisle, well, their sauerkraut leader sings of eliminating the juice (It's a bad pun, not only for the obvious reason but also because it's inconsistent with the world the movie builds).

For what it's worth, jokes such as that one, which exists only to shock (At which point, is it really even a joke?), are scarce (The puns, of both the visual and oral varieties, are not, though). The broad racial and cultural stereotypes are abundant. At a certain point, they become numbing, and as a result, whatever humor could be mined from them is diminished.

The plot focuses on a ragtag group of anthropomorphic food products, which wear gloves and cute little shoes, in a grocery store. Frank (voiced by Rogen), a hot dog, and Brenda (voice of Kristen Wiig), a bun, are in love, having had their packages placed on a shelf next to each other. Frank—remember, this is a hot dog—wants put himself inside—remember, this is a bun—Brenda, but the rules of their beliefs say that they have to wait until they reach the Great Beyond.

A jar of honey mustard (voice of Danny McBride) is returned to the store from the Great Beyond with news that their human gods are actually food-eating monsters. To learn the truth of food's existence, Frank and Brenda to seek out a bottle of liquor named—guess the stereotype with this one—Firewater (voice of Bill Hader). Joining the duo on their quest are the bagel (voice of Edward Norton), the lavash (voice of David Krumholtz), and a taco shell named Teresa (voice of Salma Hayek), which has eyes for Brenda's, well, buns.

Meanwhile, Barry (voice of Michael Cera) and Carl (voice of Jonah Hill), two other hot dogs from Frank's package, find themselves in the kitchen of a god. They discover the truth in a very funny sequence in which mundane food preparation becomes a horror show.

There are some genuinely inspired moments here, such as a scene in which a human on a drug high is able to communicate with his food. Surprisingly, a lot of these moments come after the screenplay dismisses its central theme and simply embraces outright absurdity and vulgarity. Usually, it would be the opposite, but here, the movie reaches a climax that revels in an orgy of violence—and then a hilarious one of the more traditional sort. The screenplay is never quite committed enough to the faith vs. reality thing for that through line to stick, anyway (In keeping with the all-sides-get-it approach, Frank learns that preaching non-belief can be just as annoying as the opposite).

The movie's real source of subversion—of taking the form of a cartoon for kids and injecting it with material that's for adults—might come out of the gate too quickly (It only takes a few minutes before we get the Nazi "joke"). Sausage Party is a full-on assault on civility and social mores. Yes, that's the point, and yes, it's quite funny on occasion. Maybe it's just too much.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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