2016, R, 88 min. Directed by Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon. Voices by Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 19, 2016
I imagine you’d have to be high to come up with so sublimely goofy yet novel a premise as the one for this hard-R animated comedy about an anthropomorphized wiener and hot-dog bun, desperate to bone. Also speculative: I’m guessing Sausage Party is a lot funnier if you’re stoned out of your gourd.
With a story idea credited to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, longtime screenwriting and producing partners, and Jonah Hill, who broke out in their autobiographical 2007 film Superbad, and a script by Rogen, Goldberg, and The Night Before co-screenwriters Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, Sausage Party falls in line with other Rogen-fronted comedies like This Is the End, The Interview, and Neighbors: an inspired premise, spottily funny execution, and eye-rolling gender and cultural stereotypes windmilling at subversiveness.
The setup is genius: Walking, talking grocery-store stock, from cereal box to douche product, are mass-conned into thinking that shoppers (aka “the gods”) plucking them from shelves and carting them through a supermarket’s sliding doors means a fast track to “the great beyond.” It’s only once they’re out in the world, unceremoniously unwrapped and plopped onto a cutting board in the kitchen, that they realize being bought means being consumed which means being gruesomely slaughtered, as laid out in an outlandishly funny scene wherein a potato is skinned alive and a sausage named Carl (Hill) is knifed down the middle while midspeech. The joke – and it’s a provocative one – is that this is all a big metaphor for blind obeisance to organized religion, with its promise of an afterlife and, most especially, a heavenly reward for delaying sexual gratification.
Hot-dog wiener Frank (voiced by Rogen) is packaged mere inches from bun Brenda (voiced by Wiig), his white-bread soul mate. Proximity isn’t a problem – he’s slipped a tip in – but they’ve been schooled that full-penetration sex should be saved for the great beyond. When Frank begins to doubt the myth of the great beyond after a returned jar of honey mustard (McBride) comes back to the store shell-shocked and an avowed atheist, Frank goes on a hero’s journey – certainly one Joseph Campbell never anticipated – through supermarket aisles to uncover the truth of where manufactured meat products go to die. That occasions Sausage Party’s problematic tromp through ethnic-food sections, clichéd in ways that largely aren’t amusing or challenging enough to justify their caricature. It casts Craig Robinson, the only prominent black voice actor, as a box of grits, and, in an opposite-day kind of tin-earedness, Bill Hader as a Native American bottle of “firewater,” Edward Norton as a Woody Allen-aping bagel, and David Krumholtz as his bickering Muslim flat bread traveling companion. Meanwhile Salma Hayek’s closet-lesbian taco Teresa – like Wiig’s Brenda, the only other notable female-voiced part – seems to exist solely because her contours call to mind a vagina.
I mean, shit, it’s not like it’s any surprise these guys ride bro-hard. It’s just disappointing because those sad tin cans aren’t the only ones squinting at Valhalla in the shimmering distance. Sausage Party glints of greatness, but this is half-cocked comedy at best.