Balancing absurdity against earnest attempts at storytelling and satire caused the film to frequently exhaust itself.
In following my upbeat Bad Moms review with an unenthusiastic Sausage Party review, I am slightly concerned that my opinions might come across as contrarian, like I’m trying to be the next Armond White or something. But believe me, the fact that I came up with mostly good things to say about the run-of-the-mill “Bad” movie and have relatively few good things to say about the new, absurdly playful Rogen-Goldberg comedy gem is as much a surprise to me as it may be to many of you. That isn’t to say I disliked Sausage Party, but only that it didn’t meet my expectations, even when I made a conscious effort to keep them neutral so as not to be disappointed.
With 2-D animated films having long ago gotten their just due of filthiness and irreverence with things like South Park and Beavis and Butthead, the Dreamworks/Pixar-esque 3-D adventure film for adults was just waiting to be made. I was delighted to see the trailer for Sausage Party, which promised a ridiculous story about the secret life of food and other grocery store products and how they believe paradise awaits outside the automatic doors of the supermarket, completely unaware that becoming dinner will be their ultimate demise. Seth Rogan plays Frank, a “sausage” that is really a hot dog, and Kristen Wiig plays the bun he is in love with, Brenda. Hot dogs and buns cohabitate the same 4th of July display in this story, even though the wieners obviously belong in the refrigerated section. When a jar of Honey Mustard played by Danny McBride is returned from “the great beyond” traumatized and inconsolable, his psychotic episode results in a cart spill that separates Frank and Brenda from their group and deprives them of their place in this so-called paradise.
Most of the film deals with them and a few other colorful food characters trying to find a way back into heaven. David Krumholz plays a cantankerous Lavash who clashes with Edward Norton’s nebbish Sammy Bagel Jr. (Norton does a spot-on Woody Allen impression). Salma Hayek plays a closeted-lesbian taco shell. Meanwhile, Frank’s pals get to “the great beyond” and see their true purpose in the lives of the “Gods” in a scene that is funny if only for how disturbing it is.
If you watched the trailer, you might expect an escape plot similar to Toy Story, with these funny and affable hot dogs trying to escape certain death. While that part of the plot is indeed present, the film gives more running time to other things, mainly adventures in the different areas of the store, Frank’s attempts to find and rescue his friends, and the exploits of a vengeful and murderous douche voiced by Nick Kroll. There’s also a surprising amount of allegory in the film, mainly religious and political. The arguments between the Lavash and Bagel represent tensions in Israel. The lie about the great beyond is meant to make fun of lies we believe in our religions.
While these ideas are funny in theory, they are sometimes played out to be message-driven satire, which due to the simplicity of the jokes and their tonal inconsistency with the rest of the film, comes across as too obvious and out of place to be laughed at or seen as insightful. To add to this problem, a lot of the normal jokes are too characteristic of Rogen/Apatow comedies. The food characters swearing is often included as a joke in itself, which by now just isn’t silly or original enough to bring out laughter at anything unexpected. Although I was surprised to see the weed jokes kept to a minimum.
Sausage Party is meant to be mindless entertainment, but sometimes it tries to be thoughtful, clever entertainment, which I just don’t think it’s capable of achieving. If anything, I might have felt this movie was trying too hard to be satirical. It doesn’t go full silly and absurd with the types of food characters and their antics until the very end. And while there are some great payoffs that make it a worthwhile experience, the bulk of the movie is just waiting for things to get interesting. I have to admit that it’s hard to put my finger on it, but I do think if Sausage Party put more focus on the absurdity of its premise and was willing to be sillier in the writing in addition to the visuals, there would have been less stalling out. Balancing absurdity against earnest attempts at storytelling and satire caused the film to frequently exhaust itself. | Nic Champion