Saturday, August 13, 2016

All Food Goes to Heaven: "Sausage Party" clever and surprisingly audacious but not consistently funny

Sausage Party (2016)
89 min., rated R.

An inspiredly goofy idea for a short stuffed into the casing of a feature-length film, “Sausage Party” is the anti-Veggie Tales, an irreverent satire that challenges religious faith and existentialism with the use of anthropomorphic supermarket products who eventually just want to get it on. No, seriously. Designed to be inappropriate, pervasively filthy and even a little audacious, this R-rated, for-adults-only animated comedy certainly has more going on upstairs than just wiener jokes, but why isn’t it more consistently funny? Even at a brief 89 minutes, the chuckles become scattered and there is too much slack, repetitive wandering-around in between the better jokes, underscoring the dead stretches. As directed by Greg Tiernan (he of nearly every “Thomas & Friends” short) and Conrad Vernon (2012’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”) and credited to four—count ‘em, four—screenwriters, Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir (2015’s “The Night Before”) & Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (2016’s “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”), “Sausage Party” may be stretched thin but subversively goes where not even “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut” dared to go. Think of it as “Toy Story,” but only if that Pixar adventure had phallic, profane-talking edibles.

With “Red, White and Blue Day” right around the corner, the food items on the shelves at Shopwell’s Supermarket are excited to finally be chosen by the “Gods” (the customers) and taken to “The Great Beyond” (the kitchen). Little do they know that once food goes out those doors, they are doomed to be slaughtered. Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) is a pork sausage in a sealed package. It’s forbidden for a sausage to put himself inside of a hot dog bun, but Frank and Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig) want to do more than touch “tips.” Once Frank and Brenda are chosen and placed in a cart, a returned jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) clouds their beliefs about the horrors that await them before committing suicide. Through a series of circumstances, the sausage and bun escape from their packages and become stranded in the aisles of Shopwell’s. Meanwhile, girthy, deformed wiener Barry (Michael Cera) witnesses the gruesome horrors that do in his friends and must journey back home to warn those still at Shopwell's.

For its concept alone, “Sausage Party” deserves props for existing at all. With the aid of alcohol, weed, or maybe even harder drugs, one can imagine this playing like knee-slapping gangbusters, but at a certain point, its thematic and philosophical ambitions start to outweigh its readings on the laugh meter. As for the theological allegory about atheism, it is most certainly there, as Frank learns he can't be intolerant and just shove his atheist beliefs down the throats of those who do believe, like Brenda. Amid the bursts of inspiration, there are plenty of easy food puns, while the consistent abundance of F-bombs, spoken by food, seems to ride on being inherently amusing but wears old after a while. When the jokes aren’t firing, the plot tediously follows Frank meeting with Native American liquor bottle Firewater (Bill Hader) to learn the truth about their existence, while Brenda, Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), Lavash (David Krumholtz) and a leggy lesbian taco named Teresa (Salma Hayek), who also wants to get inside of Brenda’s bun, go down different aisles in the store after-hours.

The heartiest laughs come mostly during the first and third acts. With a shopping cart wreck that creates a cloud of flour in the freezer section, a memorably hysterical bit pays homage to a war film. There’s a dementedly funny sequence where Frank’s fellow grocery pals become murdered in horror-movie style (i.e. baby carrot genocide, the skinning of a potato, the poor cheese gets microwaved on top of the poor tortilla chips, etc.). Picking up its original steam back in the grocery store, the bonkers climax goes to dark, very wrong places. Helping greatly, the terrifically talented vocal cast goes for broke, beginning with Seth Rogen who finally gets his chance to play a horny frankfurter. The desirable relationship between Frank and Brenda is beguilingly raunchy and innuendo-filled. As Brenda, Kristen Wiig only knows how to be a comedic standout, whether she’s nervously singing or coming across as sweet even when calling an Armenian flatbrad a “floppy fuck.” Without spoiling too much more, Nick Kroll voices a douchey, juiced-up douche, and a vocally unrecognizable Edward Norton does an uncanny Woody Allen impersonation as a Jewish bagel.

Viewed in a stone-cold sober state—not far off from 2007’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters”—“Sausage Party” is obscenely funny in fits and starts and there’s something gleefully twisted but never mean about its rambunctious attitude. The screenplay is also an equal-opportunity offender, using nearly every race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation as a part of the food concept. Being half the brainchild from the smartly stoned minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, though, more laughs would have been nice. It is surely one of the most cleverly conceived and limits-pushing comedies in recent memory, animated or not. It just makes one want to laugh more. The filmmakers may even go a step too far, but they decidedly save their most perversely uproarious—even shocking—gag for an orgasmic finale that redefines the word “food porn.” If nothing else, “Sausage Party” will go down in cinematic history as the first and (probably) last film where a hard taco shell performs cunnilingus on a hot dog bun.

Grade: C +

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