Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sausage Party

Alternate Title:  Foodfight II:  Electric Barbecue
One sentence synopsis:    A hot dog and his girlfriend the bun dream of being selected by shoppers at their supermarket home before discovering the awful truth about what happens to food once purchased.

Things Havoc liked: Seth Rogan has been one of the more reliable features at the movies in the last couple of years, and ever since I was dragged to This is the End against my will (thank you, Steve), I've made a point of checking out what I can of his work. Last year's The Night Before was pretty good, as was the unreleased Interview, but this year Rogan decided to take on an animated feature about food that comes to life, all with an R-Rating. You don't see a lot of R-rated animated features around, so this was one I decided was worth considering, especially given its pedigree. There were worse options available.

Rogan, like a lot of filmmakers, has a stable of actors he likes to work with, most of whom make voice appearances in this film. While Rogan himself voices Frank, the lead sausage of a pack of hot dogs who, initially at least, wishes simply to make it to "The Great Beyond" in the company of his girlfriend Brenda Bun (Kristen Wiig), his reliable co-conspirators Jonah Hill and Michael Cera voice Barry and Carl, two other sausages from the same package who actually make it out of their supermarket home and discover what becomes of food in the aftermath of being purchased. Following a series of disasters, our heroes are all separated, and must make their way through the store and the world at large, all while encountering a panoply of other characters voiced by Rogan regulars. David Krumholz and Edward Norton take on comic relief characters of a Lavash and a Bagel who (predictably) hate each other, while Craig Robinson and Bill Hader take on the role of the wise old elder foods (non-perishables) who know the mysterious secrets of the universe. Everyone is fine in the movie, and in fact as the cast elongates, there's a number of legitimately funny, if predictable, jokes to be found in just the concepts people are asked to play. James Franco, for instance, plays a drug addict who discovers he can talk to food after shooting up with bath salts, while Selma Hayak is a lesbian taco shell who gets to be a thin pastiche of every Selma Hayak role ever invented. Assorted smaller roles go to everything from a piece of used chewing gum/Stephen Hawking (just go with it), a potato who is possibly the most Irish thing since Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and a recurring joke about how the Sauerkraut jars are all Nazis who drove the bagels from their original aisles and into the middle eastern foods section. But the best one goes to Nick Kroll, a veteran of many recent comedies (and, weirdly, Terrence Mallick's experimental art film Knight of Cups from last year), who plays the primary antagonist of the film, a douche, both literal and figurative.

As I'm sure you can tell by now, the parallels to Toy Story are many and obvious, and to the movie's credit, it plays the concept reasonably straight. The cosmology of the universe posits that the humans who purchase the food are "Gods", and that the Great Beyond is some form of Heaven, and the attempts on the part of the disillusioned sausages to convince their fellows what actually awaits them results in abject rejection from those who prefer to believe that something good awaits them. This could easily turn insufferable, but instead becomes a weird kind of semi-parody of both religious movies and message movies. Along the way, the film is filled with spoof moments that feel like a cross between The Lego Movie, and something Kevin Smith might have come up with back when he was still making good films. An early scene spoofs the opening to Saving Private Ryan in one of the funniest ways imaginable, while the climax comprises an orgiastic battle with an actual, full-blown orgy. Let it never be said that the movies can't still find a way to show me something new...

Things Havoc disliked: For all that though, Sausage Party is a movie that has about forty-five minutes of good ideas stretched to near the breaking point by the need to come up with a feature-length film. Even at a slim 88 minutes, there are entire sequences in the film that feel like enormous padding, including most everything that happens for the first ten minutes, which, for those who aren't up on your narrative theory, is not the section of the film you want to bore people with. This tendency persists throughout the film, particularly in the middle sections, which involve a series of odyssies on the part of our heroes, who must traverse one aisle after another for no reason other than a couple of jokes at the expense of the foods in question. The main character, Frank, spends nearly ten minutes speaking to a wise council of elder foods, only to go on a quest to find a secret trove of knowledge, which reveals to him... pretty much exactly what the wise council of elders already told him in explicit detail. Meanwhile his girlfriend meets one character after another who have no real reason to be there at all, be it Hayek's taco (who's at least good for a little self-referential humor), or Danny McBride's suicidal Mustard Jar, who exists apparently so that Danny McBride could be in another Seth Rogan movie.

The other major issue with Sausage Party is that... well... it's just not that funny. I mean, don't get me wrong, it is funny, occasionally very funny, especially in the climax, but a lot of the humor falls into that Seth MacFarlane zone, wherein things are funny because they are weird, not because the weirdness is itself amusing. The aforementioned orgy comes to mind, which once you get past the fact that food is having an orgy (which admittedly takes a moment), is just shock humor without any real cleverness to it. It's not that the movie isn't clever at all, it's that it's spotty, with moments of inspired sight gags and visual puns, alternating with long stretches of fairly stale, obvious humor derived from the premise more than anything else. It doesn't make the movie bad, but it does make it somewhat less than one might expect from this team and this concept.

Final thoughts:  Sausage Party is an amusing enough little film, but taking the weirdness of the concept out of things, it's also a movie that probably belongs somewhere around the level of The Interview or Neighbors when it comes to the Seth Rogan oevre. It's a film that needed either to be made as a short film (to cut out the padding) or made by someone with an edgier sense of humor (which Rogan is not and has never been). Still, all in all, if the strangeness of the premise or the appeal of the cast and crew are enough to interest you in a movie about a sex-crazed hot dog who murders a tweaker with an axe, then this one's probably worth a look. And after all, who hasn't wanted to see something like that on occasion?

Final Score:  5.5/10

Next Time:  Time to go back to Texas...

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